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France16 December 2005

Disappearance of journalist still unsolved eight years on

Reporters Without Borders today urged the judiciary in French Polynesia to investigate how and why investigative journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud, editor of the daily Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, vanished eight years ago today, in 1997, and said it could not accept a Papeete court’s dismissal of the case in June 2002.

New evidence, suggesting he was murdered, had surfaced since then, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. Couraud’s body has never been found.

Vetea Guilloux, a then member of the armed Intervention Group (GIP), a police force answering to the former president, Gaston Flosse, said in October 2004 he had witnessed the journalist’s execution by two other GIP members who then threw the weighted body into a lagoon. No official attempt has been made to find it as a result of this claim.

Guilloux’ statement led to speculation about the involvement of president Gaston Flosse, of whom Couraud was a well-known critic. Guilloux was then arrested and sentenced in November 2004 to a year in prison, including nine months suspended, for lies and insults. He was later conditionally freed after withdrawing his claim. The prosecutor-general has refused to reopen the enquiry into Couraud’s disappearance, saying the truth of what Guilloux said could not be verified.

Couraud’s family was granted interested-party status in the case and on 10 December 2004 filed a suit against person(s) unknown for murder, in protest against the prosecutor’s decision. The suit was heard on 22 February 2005 by investigating magistrate Anne Barruol.

A support committee set up by one of the journalist’s brothers in December 2004 keeps up to date with developments in the enquiry, which has made very little progress.

Reporters Without Borders backs the family in its fight to discover what happened to Jean-Pascal Couraud.

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