Ivoirian authorities must stop harassing Hamed Kassambara – MFWA

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the prolonged judicial harassment of journalist Hamed Kassambara and calls for all judicial restrictions against him to be lifted.

Hamed Kassambara, programme director of Radio Foundara FM in Ferkessédougou (or Ferké), a town about 600 km north of the capital Abidjan, is still under judicial supervision after he was put under it in October 2022.

Kassambara is also president of the Network of Communicators, Media and Press Correspondent of Tchologo (a region in the north of Côte d’Ivoire), regional press correspondent and member of the executive board of the National Union of Proximity Radios of Côte d’Ivoire (URPCI).

After being detained for four days at the Investigation Division of the National Gendarmerie in Abidjan, and then transferred to the Maison d’arrêt et de correction d’Abidjan (MACA), he was detained again for 20 days, for allegedly defaming the president, before being freed. However, he is required to appear before the judicial authorities in Abidjan-Plateau every two weeks and is no longer allowed to leave the country.

Recounting his experience, Hamed told MFWA in a telephone conversation that on October 7, 2022, he received a call from Commander Ouattara Benjamin of the investigation division of the national Gendarmerie, summoning him to appear at the Gendarmerie at Plateau, in Abidjan, for judicial investigation.

Because the summon had come late on Friday, October 7, 2022, the journalist requested and was granted permission to report on Monday, October 10, 2022. Upon his arrival in Cote d’Ivoire’s commercial capital, after a 600-kilometre journey, Kassambara says he called the President of the Union of Journalists in Cote d’Ivoire (UNJCI) Jean Claude Coulibaly and briefed him about the issue. Following the advice of Coulibaly, Kassambara called the commander and demanded a written summon, which was delivered to his phone on WhatsApp.

When Kassambara presented himself to the investigation division accompanied by his lawyer, Esq. Drissa Traoré, he was accused of creating a fake profile on Facebook and using it to publish insulting messages against the President of the Republic, an allegation he denied. Even so, two phones belonging to the journalist were confiscated for investigation. After a two-hour hearing, he was detained for four days and subjected to investigation, according to the officer in charge of his case.

On October 14, 2022, after four days in detention in extremely difficult conditions, he was transferred to the public prosecutor’s office before the examining magistrate of the Abidjan-Plateau Court. Despite the lack of evidence that he is the owner of the fake Facebook account, even after an analysis of his phones,  Kassambara was remanded in custody on the orders of the public prosecutor, Mr Adou Richard.

The journalist was subsequently put in detention at the Maison d’arrêt et de correction d’Abidjan (MACA), a major prison facility in Abidjan. After 20 days at MACA, Kassambara was released on November 2, 2022, but placed under judicial supervision. Meanwhile, as part of the enforcement of the judicial supervision, Kassambara, is forbidden from leaving the country. He must also report to the judicial authorities in Abidjan every fortnight to sign an attendance register.

The MFWA is deeply concerned about the arrest and long detention of Kassambara over an allegation against him that has not been proven. It is excessive to detain a suspect for 24 days and impose on him, the burden of making 1,200 kilometre-round trip to report himself every two weeks.

It is worth noting that Côte d’Ivoire’s press law (Law n°2017-867 amended by Law n°2022-978), has scrapped criminal libel along with,  all custodial punishment for press offences. In such a country, a journalist who is suspected of using a Facebook account to insult the president should not be harassed in this way.

In view of the above, the MFWA calls on the authorities to end the harassment of Kassambara, particularly the judicial control imposed on him.

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