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Côte d’Ivoire18 September 2006

Court imposes heavy fine on three journalists for insulting president

Coulibaly Seydou, the managing editor of the privately-owned daily Le Jour Plus, Frédéric Koffi, its editor, and Edouard Gonto, one of his journalists, were today jointly fined a total of 15 million CFA francs (22,867 euros) by an Abidjan court for “contempt of the head of state” in an article that said President Gbagbo’s wife was partly to blame for the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan.

Their lawyer has filed an appeal, and until the outcome is known, they will not have to pay the fine.

14.09.06 - Managing editor, journalist and editor charged with "offense against the head of state"

Reporters Without Borders urged the Ivorian justice system to accept that journalist Edouard Gonto and managing editor Coulibaly Seydou of the privately-owned daily Le Jour Plus have been treated unfairly and should be acquitted.

The two journalists, who were arrested on 12 September 2006, were released on the evening of 13 September after learning form the state prosecutor they were being charged with “offence against the head of state”.

The two are summoned to appear before an Abidjan court on 15 September, along with the editor of Le Jour Plus, Frédéric Koffy. In the absence of the managing editor, he headed the editorial team on the day of publication of the offending article - which claimed the president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, was partly responsible for the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan.

They face a fine of up to 20 millions CFA francs (about 30,500 euros).

"The release of these two journalists is certainly good news, but they should never have been arrested and detained in the first place,” the press freedom organisation said.

“The Ivorian presidency has a number of other ways to seek redress, including the publication of a right to reply, a denial or to refer the case to the bodies which regulate the media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Instead of which it prefers to use an out-dated method which is at the margins of legality”.

13.09.2006 - Two journalists arrested for linking president’s wife to toxic waste dumped in Abidjan

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the arrest of Coulibaly Seydou, the managing editor of the privately-owned daily Le Jour Plus, and Edouard Gonto, one of his journalists, because of article claiming the president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, was partly responsible for the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan.

“This is a scandal that only makes sense if you accept that the laws do not apply when the media criticise the president’s wife,” the press freedom organisation said. “The fact that a newspaper violates a taboo is no excuse for circumventing the law to get two journalists imprisoned. The only option for the authorities now is to release Seydou and Gonto at once.”

Press offences ceased to be punishable by imprisonment in Côte d’Ivoire after the law was amended last year.

Seydou and Gonto were summoned by the prosecutor general yesterday September after the newspaper ran a special feature on the toxic waste dumped in Abidjan, which has been blamed for a number of deaths. They were held overnight at the gendarmerie’s criminal investigation department and were taken to the prosecutor’s office this morning.

It was not know what charges would be brought against them as the hearing was still continuing as this press release was issued.

In its 11 September issue, Le Jour Plus published a dossier entitled, “Toxic waste: Mme Gbagbo at the heart of the scandal.” In one of the articles, Gonto claimed that President Laurent Gbagbo’s wife, the director-general of Abidjan’s port and the governor of the district of Abidjan all approved the deal under which the owner of the merchant vessel Probo Kaola was able to offload waste in various places in the city using a specially-created company. The article said the president’s office was nonetheless unaware that the waste was toxic and was misled about the quantity involved.

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