Reporters Without Borders today condemned a campaign of censorship and intimidation against opposition news media using gangs of young people who have roamed through the streets of Abidjan in the past few days, threatening and attacking street vendors selling opposition newspapers and tearing up copies of the newspapers targeted.
The violence began three days after an anti-rebel movement known as the National Federation of Ivory Coast Forums and Parliaments (FENAPCI) - which claims to defend "constitutional legality" - decided the "withdrawal from the market" of all newspapers that support the rebellion and the G7 opposition coalition, "until the disarmament".
"We must protest against these illegal raids, because tolerating this kind of political censorship is to encourage arbitrary power," Reporters Without Borders said. "We expect the Ivorian government to take steps to punish this behaviour and the groups involved, and to guarantee the diversity of the Ivorian press."
The organisation pointed out that article 9 of the constitution’s first chapter states that free expression is ’guaranteed to everyone, subject to respect for the law, the rights of others, national security and public order.’
"Those who instigated this censorship by means of vandalism should bring it to an immediate end since they profess their attachment to ’constitutional legality’," Reporters Without Borders added.
"We no longer want to see these newspapers"
The decision to launch the campaign of violence was taken at an extraordinary general assembly of FENAPCI members on 23 October in the Abidjan district of Cocody.
Interviewed by the daily L’Intelligent d’Abidjan, FENAPCI president Idriss Ouattara said he and his "comrades" could "no longer accept that these newspapers continue to sing the praises of the rebels and the G7 on our territory" and that they "no longer want to see these newspapers."
Beginning at 7:30 a.m. on 26 October, several groups of individuals calling themselves "civil society" members accosted newspaper vendors in the Abidjan districts of Yopougon, Port-Bouët, Adjamé, La Riviera and Cocody. They threatened them, told them to stop selling Le Patriote, Le Nouveau Réveil, Le Front, 24 Heures and Jour plus, and tore up all the copies they found of these newspapers.
Reached by Reporters Without Borders, editorial staff at Le Patriote, Le Nouveau Réveil, Le Front and 24 Heures confirmed that there had been many attacks on vendors, especially in the district of Yopougon, a FENAPCI stronghold. Le Patriote said two of its vendors, Lamine Tierno and Apollinaire Kouassi, had been badly beaten.
Diallo, a vendor in Port-Bouët, told Reporters Without Borders: "They told me not to sell certain newspapers. I asked why. They told me I was being stubborn and tore everything up." A similar group accosted a vendor in Cocody. "They arrived and started tearing up all of the opposition newspapers and some other independent newspapers," he said. "They did give any reason. I later realised they were targeting the newspapers they consider to be the supporters of Forces Nouvelles," he added.
A member of one of these groups encountered by Reporters Without Borders on an Abidjan street said the operation was called, "Remove pro-rebel newspapers from the retail circuit." He said: "The newspapers that were torn up defended rebels who refuse to lay down their arms. It is not normal that newspapers continue to support them in articles by people who have decided to burn Ivory Coast. This action is just the beginning of other, more energetic actions that will be started in the days to come."
Edipresse, a company that distributes newspapers and magazines, already decided on 25 October to suspend distribution in Agboville (north of Abidjan), and in the southwestern towns of Gagnoa and Soubré because of the threat of violence.