Editors fined for Publishing Statement Calling for Release of Imprisoned Opposition Politician

A court in Cote d’Ivoire has ordered two journalists to pay a total of five million CFA Francs (USD 8,384) in fines for publishing a press release issued by the lawyers of an imprisoned opposition Member of Parliament.

Coulibaly Vamara and Paul Koffi, Managing Editors of the privately-owned Inter Press and Le Nouveau Réveil newspapers respectively, were, on March 31, 2020, ordered by a Magistrates’ Court in Abidjan to pay a fine of 2.5 million CFA francs (USD 4,192) each.

The two journalists published a statement from the lawyers of the incarcerated Alain Lobognon, which raised concerns about the poor condition in which the lawmaker is being detained, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement also called for the release of Lobognon who was imprisoned in December 2019

The MFWA is concerned about the increasing number of journalists and media outlets being fined in Cote d’Ivoire by courts and the media regulatory body for perceived offences.

In the last one month, six journalists have been fined in connection with their work. On March 3, 2020, Yacouba Gbande and Barthelemy Tehin, from Le Temps, were fined USD 8, 600 by a court for press offenses. On March 25, 2020, a similar fate befell Cissé Sindou and Marc Dossa from the newspaper Générations Nouvelles who were fined USD 8600 also for press offences by a court.

The MFWA is concerned about the continuous use of prohibitive fines against journalists in Cote d’Ivoire for perceived acts of unprofessionalism. The practice has the tendency to affect the sustainability of the media in the country.

The MFWA finds the court’s decision in the case of Vamara and Paul Koffi very curious. There is no doubt that Lobogbon is an unwanted person within the corridors of power in Cote d’Ivoire. But to penalise the editors of a newspaper for publishing a press release that is sympathetic to the imprisoned politician is to carry the hostility too far, especially when the authors of the statement have not been found to have committed any offense. We therefore denounce the decision and urge the journalists to appeal the decision in the hope that justice will be served.

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