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French Guiana24 September 2004

Prefecture denies journalist access to minister

RSF has expressed concern over the Cayenne prefecture’s refusal to grant journalist Frédéric Farine permission to cover French Overseas Departments Minister Brigitte Girardin’s visit to French Guiana. Cayenne is the capital of French Guiana.

On 16 September 2004, Farine, a correspondent for Radio France International’s (RFI) online news service, was refused permission to accompany the Overseas Departments Minister on an 18 September mission - dubbed "Operation Anaconda" - to wipe-out illegal gold-washing sites in the south. When the journalist requested permission to board the army helicopter that had been assigned for the press, he was reportedly told by the prefecture’s administrative director, Daniel Josserand-Jaillet, "You are constantly writing negative things about the prefectural services. I am not going to put you on the press list for Ms. Girardin’s visit."

When contacted by Le Monde correspondent Laurent Marot on the afternoon of 16 September, Josserand-Jaillet confirmed that Farine had been excluded for his "presumptuous behaviour" and for his "negative articles" about various prefectural departments. Josserand-Jaillet reportedly told Marot that "all departments have been instructed not to communicate with [Farine]." Another journalist, who was with Marot at the time of the conversation, confirmed the director’s statement.

When reached by RSF on September 22, however, Josserand-Jaillet denied having made the comments, saying that Farine was not allowed on the helicopter because there were no seats available when he called two days earlier. Other journalists who were on the helicopter have confirmed that a seat was, in fact, available on the aircraft, and that Farine, who was present during take-off, was nevertheless not allowed to board.

In the July 2004 edition of Menmomag magazine, Farine published an investigative report on the Cayenne prefecture’s alleged fraudulent granting of visas. The journalist is also known for his reporting on gold-washing industry violence. In July 2001, he co-authored a report with Le Monde’s Marot denouncing the reign of terror of "quasi-militias" at the service of gold-washing lords and the authorities’ complacent attitude toward them.

On 14 May 2003, Farine was violently attacked by gold-washing lord Jean Bena while he was covering the murder trial of a former Bena employee for the RFO Guyane radio station. On 16 December, a Cayenne court found Bena guilty of assault in the incident and sentenced him to a four-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 3,000 euros (approx. US$ 3,680). The court justified the harsh sentence by the serious nature of the incident, its context and the high profile of the accused. Bena has appealed the verdict. The case is scheduled to be heard on 11 October 2004.

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