Reporters Without Borders is concerned about yesterday’s arrests of the editor, managing editor and publisher of the Nouveau Courrier d’Abidjan newspaper and the summary methods used in the case by Abidjan public prosecutor Raymond Tchimou Fehou.
The three journalists – editor Saint Claver Oula, publisher Stéphane Guédé and managing editor Théophile Kouamouo – were arrested by plain-clothes police on Tchimou’s orders for publishing the findings of his investigation into alleged corruption in the coffee and cocoa trade. His report, which has been classified, was handed to President Laurent Gbagbo a few weeks ago.
The prosecutor began by summoning Kouamouo in an attempt to force him to reveal his sources. When Kouamouo refused, Tchimou had him arrested by the criminal investigation department, which questioned and placed him in custody. A search was then carried out at the newspaper, during which a computer was removed and police superintendant Maxime Gogoua and other police officers pointed their guns at members of the staff.
Later yesterday, Oula and Guédé were summoned to the headquarters of the criminal investigation department, where they were questioned and taken into custody. All three spent the night in the department’s cells and were due to be taken before a judge and charged with “theft of administrative documents.”
Reporters Without Borders has not seen such methods used by the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire for many years. The theft charge does not stand up. It should be borne in mind that protection of the confidentiality of sources is a fundamental principle of journalism, one that is particular appropriate for such a sensitive issue as corruption in the coffee and cocoa trade.
Reporters Without Borders deplores this serious threat to press freedom and calls for the immediate release of the three journalists.