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Cote d’Ivoire2 June 2004

Reporters Without Borders expresses concern over health and safety of jailed editor

Reporters Without Borders has expressed deep concern over the deterioration of "Le Venin" ("Venom") editor Gaston Bony’s health. Bony is imprisoned in the Agboville penitentiary, just outside of Abidjan.

"The deplorable conditions of [Bony’s] detention and a five day hunger strike have considerably weakened him. Moreover, he claims to have received death threats from individuals close to the Agboville mayor. We therefore urge the Ivoirian authorities to end this appalling and completely unjustified detention and to guarantee the journalist’s safety with respect to these threats, should they prove to be genuine," said the organisation.

Bony, who is also a radio host with La voix de l’Agnéby (The Voice of Agnéby), a local radio station, has been in prison since 31 March 2004. He was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 500,000 CFA francs (approx. US$927; 760 euros) for defamation, following the publication of an article entitled, "Agboville Mayor Tetchi Chiedou Claude misappropriates three million [CFA francs] from radio station’s grant to pay for secret services of a friend".

This is the first time a prison term with no parole has been handed down to a journalist since Laurent Gbagbo became president in 2000, when he declared that there would be no more prisoners of conscience in Côte d’Ivoire.

Bony is serving his sentence in very difficult conditions, sharing a tiny cell with four other prisoners. He expressed disgust over the sentence and has begun a hunger strike in protest, which has only worsened his physical condition. He now walks with difficulty and requires a cane to get around. His family and friends are extremely concerned about him and visit regularly.

Bony has also been receiving death threats from Agboville Mayor Claude Tetchi Chiedou, the subject of the "Venin" article. According to the journalist, the mayor and individuals close to him have told him, "We will get you, whatever it takes, unless you’re no longer in Côte d’Ivoire. Whether you’re in Agboville or in another part of the country, we will get you." Bony now fears for his life once he is released.

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