"I’ve been in power for nine months now. During that time, no journalist has been arrested for what they have said or written". This declaration is drawn from an interview with President Laurent Gbagbo in Fraternité Matin in August 2001. Yet an Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist was detained for five days in January and officially accused of being in contact with rebels during the night of 7 to 8 January. The journalist explained that the purpose of this contact was to obtain information for his articles. Questioned on this incident by French president Jacques Chirac, the Côte d’Ivoire president preferred to avoid the issue, saying "I refuse to interfere in matters of the judiciary".
Two months later the new communication minister, Lia Bi Douayoua, announced: "You won’t see a single journalist put in jail for their articles, with the present government. This is a promise I’m making to you as a member of the government and a former militant who fought so that such things would no longer happen [...] We have promised the decriminalisation of the press and we will do it." Once again, the facts contradict the words of these officials. In April and September two Ivorian journalists were arrested by the police, and press offences are still liable to jail sentences in Côte d’Ivoire.
On 3 May, International Press Freedom Day, OLPED, the national observatory for press freedom and ethics, called on the country’s citizens to "refrain from buying non-credible newspapers". The organisation has deplored the bad quality and lack of professionalism of certain titles on several occasions in the past few years. In June the prime minister repeated OLPED’s criticism and vigorously attacked his country’s media, claiming that they were the cause of "75% of the fear" of a coup d’état in Côte d’Ivoire. Several journalists retorted that the government had used this "partial and partisan" press before coming into power.
One journalist jailed
On 17 January 2001, Mohammed Junior Ouattara, journalist with the Abidjan AFP office, was arrested by DST (security police) agents in connection with an inquiry into the abortive coup d’état in January. He was accused of "breach of national security". Mohammed Ouattara had been in contact with the rebels during the night of 7 to 8 January, before writing dispatches for AFP. He was eventually released on 22 January without being charged.
Two journalists arrested
Louis Dacoury-Tabley, owner of the daily Le Front, was arrested briefly by police on 27 April 2001 at Abidjan airport on his return to the country. The police officers asked for the identity of the people with whom he was travelling. Louis Dacoury-Tabley, a member of the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), had been moving away from the leaders of the party.
On 20 September the editor-in-chief of the daily Le Jeune Démocrate, Armand Bohui, went to the DST from which he had received a summons. He was immediately detained and accused of publishing an article headed "Attempt to assassinate President Gbagbo: a network discovered, the chief in the hands of the DST". The journalist was released in the evening.
One journalist attacked
Douah Gouly, journalist with the daily Ivoir’Soir, was beaten up by agents of the GMI (flying squad) while covering a demonstration by taxi drivers on 7 September 2001 in Abidjan. The journalist had clearly indicated that he was from the press.
Two journalists threatened
In July 2001 Abdoulaye Sangaré, managing editor of the daily Le Jour, and Patrice Guéhi, managing editor of the daily Le Patriote, were threatened with death. According to Abdoulaye Sangaré, the decision to kill him had been taken "at the highest level" because he had "explosive information" concerning the president. A reward of 50 million CFA francs (76,224 euros) had allegedly been promised for this operation. Patrice Guéhi says he was warned by "policemen friends" that DST agents had decided to kill him and his family. Le Patriote is very close to the opposition RDR of Alassane Dramane Ouattara.
Pressure and obstruction
In the first two weeks of January 2001 several journalists of the daily Le Patriote were summoned by the investigation squad of the gendarmerie for "necessities of investigation". According to the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, they were accused of publishing articles citing people who doubted the real existence of the abortive coup d’état. A few days after the coup the home of the managing editor of Le Patriote was ransacked by unidentified persons.
On 12 February about thirty policemen searched the printing press of the privately-owned daily Le Jour. According to the editors, the men were looking for "weapons and mercenaries". They found nothing and left a few minutes later.
In a letter dated 12 April, the National Press Commission (CNP) decided to suspend publication of the fortnightly Solidarité Paalga "until further notice". The CNP gave three reasons: the fact that the managing editor, Nicolas Sahouidi, was a citizen of Burkina Faso; the fact that the publication had not been legally registered; and the fact that none of the editors were professional journalists. Nicolas Sahouidi told Reporters Sans Frontières that his magazine had received authorisation to publish from the interior ministry and the registration office, and that his nationality had been specified in the documents required for this authorisation. He added that Solidarité Paalga had always submitted copies to the registration office, as required by the law. Lastly, he acknowledged the fact that nobody on his editorial staff had a press card but explained that in terms of Ivorian law a "professional journalist" was someone who collected and disseminated news and who derived most of his income from that activity. On 3 May 2001 the CNP lifted the suspension and asked Nicolas Sahouidi to "comply with Ivorian press law as soon as possible".
On 8 May, Patrice Guéhi and Méité Sindou, respectively managing editor and editor-in-chief of Le Patriote, were sentenced in their absence to three months’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs (152 euros) for "libel". They were found guilty of publishing an article in June 2000 attacking the president of the Côte d’Ivoire human rights league, Martin Bléou. The article reported a bank draft onto a Swiss bank account in the name of the president of the league, for an amount of 1,047,379 French francs (roughly 160,000 euros). Neither the journalists nor their lawyers were summoned to appear in court. The two journalists learned of their sentence through the press. They appealed and were not incarcerated.
The home of Laurent Tapé Koulou, managing editor of the daily Le National, was attacked on 20 June by armed men who opened fire and killed the journalist’s sister and a friend. Tapé Koulou was out of the country at the time. During the wake, in August, unidentified persons threw a grenade into the crowd, injuring 22 persons. Le National is known for its radical views and xenophobic articles.
Unidentified persons burgled the premises of the daily Le Front on 19 August. No equipment was stolen but documents disappeared.
On 4 September Hamed Bakayoko, chairman of the board of Radio Nostalgie Côte d’Ivoire and publisher of Le Patriote, and Louis Dacoury-Tabley, owner of Le Front, were prevented from leaving the country at Abidjan airport. Their personal possessions were confiscated and DST agents asked for explanations concerning their trip. All their documents were eventually returned to them.
On 17 October the CNCA, the national broadcasting authority, suspended Radio Fraternité Yopougon for eight days and sentenced the station to pay a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (about 760 euros) for broadcasting the entire press conference of Henri Konan Bédié, back from exile.
The CNCA noted that local radio stations are not authorised to "broadcast programmes [...] of a political nature".