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Côte d’Ivoire26 September 2002

Foreign radio stations censored and journalists attacked

Reporters Without Borders expressed its concern today about curbs on press freedom in Côte d’Ivoire since the outbreak of an anti-government rebellion on 19 September, including the blocking of FM reception of major foreign radio stations.

"It is hard to believe the government’s explanation that the blocking of the stations for the past four days is a simple technical breakdown, especially since pro-government media have at the same time accused them of ’fabricating news’ about events in the country," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.

"We call on the minister of communications to take immediate steps to ensure these stations can be heard once more." They include the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Radio France International (RFI) and Africa No. 1, all of them blocked since 22 September. Acting communications minister Lia Bi Douayaoua has denied giving any order to cut off their signals.

Ménard also called on the government to ensure the protection of journalists in the country. "Foreign media and journalists working for the opposition press are especially at risk," he said. "President Laurent Gbagbo must publicly state his commitment to press freedom and appeal for calm among his supporters."

Reuters cameraman Alain Amontchi, was set upon by demonstrators in front of the French embassy in Abidjan on 25 September who smashed his camera and objected to the presence of the foreign media. More than 3,000 self-styled "patriotic" young people were calling for France to hand over opposition leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara, who has taken refuge in the embassy.

Mamady Keita, a reporter for the daily paper Le Patriote, which supports Ouattara’s Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR) party, received head injuries on 23 September when was attacked by members of a youth movement close to President Gbagbo. They accused him of being a spy. Le Patriote and Tassouman, another pro-RDR publication, have not appeared for several days because of receiving many threats.

A Spanish tourist, who young protesters took to be a foreign journalist, was also attacked in the centre of Abidjan on 23 September and had to be rescued by plainclothes police.

Mohamed Fajah Barrie, of the Sierra Leonean paper Concord Times, has been stuck in the town of Bouaké, a rebel stronghold, for the past six days. He had been sent to cover a football tournament there in which a Sierra Leonean team was playing.

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