Cote d’Ivoire: Journalist prosecuted for defamation

Journalist Noël Kouadio Konan was on June 29, 2022, arrested at the instance of NSIA Bank, following a post he made on his twitter account. He informed the public about an alleged scandalous theft case involving the said bank through its branch in Daoukro, a town located in central Cote d’Ivoire. 

In the post, the journalist stated that, according to information in his possession, former Ivorian President Henri Konan Bédié was reportedly a victim of theft estimated at about 7 billion CFA francs (about $10,763,760).  The journalist also announced that the Daoukro branch manager of the said bank had been transferred. 

The publication aroused the ire of the management of NSIA Bank who denied the allegations and followed it with a suit.  

“Following the serious allegations published by Mr. Noël KONAN (journalist) on the internet and social networks, the General Management of NSIA Banque CI denies, with the greatest firmness, the accusation of theft involving employees of the Bank,” the Bank stated on its LinkedIn page.  

“The Bank reserves the right to prosecute any person who contributes directly or indirectly to the dissemination of such defamatory information on its activity.” 

On the day he made the post, Noël Konan said the branch manager of NSIA Bank in Daoukro invited him to a meeting under the pretext that the former president Henri Konan Bédié wanted to talk to him about the matter. 

“I hesitated for a while because I had not made any arrangements, but on insistence, I finally gave in and arrived in Daoukro around 11 pm. He picked me up at the station and sent me straight to a hotel where he had already booked a room,” Konan told the MFWA in a conversation.

“When we sat down, one of the former president’s security men came to the table together with the Police Commissioner of the town of Daoukro. They asked me who the source of the information was”. 

Konan said since he did not reveal his source, the Police Commissioner interrogated him for several hours deep into the night before informing him of the defamation suit. He was subsequently invited to Daoukro police station the following day for further interrogation. 

Noël Konan told the MFWA that the Commissioner asked him to consult the bank’s branch manager who assured him of withdrawing the complaint from court if the journalist made another tweet to clarify what he had already put out. Konan complied.  

“Following my tweet yesterday about a theft of which the ex-president, Henri Konan Bédié was allegedly a victim, I note that the relay of my tweet on social networks was distorted and implicated the branch manager of NSIA Bank of Daoukro. It was nothing of the sort,” the journalist made another tweet on June 30, 2022. 

His denouncement notwithstanding, the Bank did not withdraw the complaint.   

On July 13, Noël Kouadio Konan received a summon from the Platform for the Fight against Cybercrime (PLCC) to appear in court “for defamation on social networks”. The journalist was questioned for more than eight hours without a lawyer, at the Direction de l’information et des traces technologiques (DITT) in Abidjan, capital of Cote d’Ivoire. He was also taken into police custody where he was detained overnight. Konan was released the following day, around noon, after several media organisations mounted support for him and decried the abuse of his right.  

Despite the moral support, the journalist intimated that he was greatly affected by the incident.  

“I would never wish this on anyone else, because when it happens, you are affected psychologically, physically and mentally. Especially when it’s not for common crimes where you robbed or killed someone. No, it’s for having written or committed a mistake in the exercise of your duties. It’s really difficult,” the journalist told the MFWA. 

Mr. Konan has been invited to appear again before the Abidjan prosecutor’s office on July 18, 2022, for the same charges. 

The MFWA strongly condemns the harassment and illegal detention of Noël Konan. We strongly urge the authorities of Cote d’Ivoire to investigate and sanction those responsible for the repeated abuses committed against the journalist. As a reminder, Law No. 2017-867 of December 27, 2017, on the legal regime of the press in Côte d’Ivoire stipulates in its Article 89 that “police custody, preventive detention and imprisonment are excluded for offences committed through the press or any other means of publication, subject to any other applicable legal provision.” 

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