Two journalists have been arrested, arraigned and fined CFA Francs 5 million (about US$ 8,600) each over a publication alleging corruption at the highest level of government, while another journalist has been summoned and interrogated over a Facebook media post.
Cote d’Ivoire’s Public Prosecutor on March 3, 2020, ordered the arrest of Yacouba Gbande director and editor-in-chief of the private newspaper Le Temps and Barthelemy Tehin, also a journalist for the same paper after the publication of the article titled “Fraud at the top, corruption: Côte d’Ivoire, a veritable rogue state!”
The Research Brigade of the National Gendarmerie arrested the two journalists and interrogated them in connection with the article, which alleged various acts of corruption on the part of high-ranking officials in the country.
The journalists were put before a court in Abidjan on the same day and sentenced for “undermining the honor and respect of several members of the government” and a fine of CFA Francs 5 million (US$ 8,600) each.
Many human rights groups have described the quick trial and its outcome as outrageous. The lawyer for the two journalists, Claver N’dri, said the speedy manner of the trial denied him enough time to study the case, while the management of Le Temps say they will appeal the decision.
It was a “travesty of justice.” protested Ousmane Sy Savane, General Manager of the Cyclone group, publisher of Le Temps. “We are going to appeal the decision”
Gbande and Tehin’s ordeal was the first of two violations recorded in Cote d’Ivoire within a period of two days. On March 3, 2020, a journalist working for the privately-owned ATM radio station in Abidjan was summoned and interrogated by the police over a Facebook post that the authorities described as “false.”
Kacou Monique, who is also the secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of Côte d’Ivoire (UNJCI), claimed that there is a shortage of oxygen at the Port-Bouët hospital. She added that the recent death of Bénédicte Goumegou, a journalist, at that facility could be linked to this shortage.
She was summoned on March 5, 2020, by the police in Port Bouet, a district south of Abidjan, interrogated for about two hours about the publication which they said could cause disaffection for the hospital and its management. She was subsequently released with a caution to avoid posting “false information.”
The MFWA finds the trial of Gbande and Tehin hasty and unwarranted. It is the view of the MFWA that the right of public officials to protect their integrity from wanton attacks is balanced by the duty of the media to scrutinise their actions and report deficits in their conduct or performance. Having opened themselves up to criticism by accepting to be in public office, public officials must, consequently, be more tolerant of scrutiny than private citizens. It is in this light that we find the hasty trial of the two journalists a demonstration of intolerance.
The MFWA recommends settlement options such as rejoinders, apology and retraction and recourse to the mediation mechanisms at the national media regulatory bodies, especially for public figures offended by publications about official work.
We commend the management of Le Temps for standing by their journalists and we fully support their decision to appeal the court’s decision.
We also find the summoning and interrogation of Monique over her Facebook post as an act of intimidation. The hospital authorities have the right to issue a rejoinder to the journalist’s claims about the shortage of oxygen at their facility. The police have no business meddling in this matter.