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Côte d’Ivoire27 January 2003

Peace treaty signing marked by renewed violence against journalists and media outlets

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the commitments made by participants at the Côte d’Ivoire peace talks with regards to media issues. The Linas-Marcoussis treaty, signed the night of 24 January 2003 and endorsed by the African heads of state who met in Paris two days later, enshrined Points V and VI on "Media" and "Human Rights". "This treaty shows a real political will on the part of the Ivoirian leaders. But it is now the new government’s responsibility to respect and apply the commitments that were made," stated Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard. In fact, the organisation is quite concerned about the renewed violence against media and journalists in Côte d’Ivoire that has followed the signing of the treaty. Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to respect their commitments and do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists working in the country.

These measures must be respected and applied without delay. Violence and attacks against media outlets and journalists in the country have increased since the signing of the treaty, and the riots and demonstrations that followed the signing. On 26 January, the offices of the private station Radio Nostalgie, located in Abidjan’s Plateau neighbourhood, were ransacked by anti-French protesters. They smashed the station’s windows and destroyed office equipment. The station, whose director is Hamed Bakayoko, an official from Alassane Ouattara’s opposition Republican Rally (Rassemblement des Républicains) party, was previously attacked by armed men in October 2002. On the morning of 26 January, the offices of the independent newspaper Le Jour were also ransacked by youths opposed to the Marcoussis treaty. They destroyed or vandalised all of the paper’s equipment and poured gasoline throughout the offices, though they did not set the office on fire. Two of Le Jour’s contributors were assaulted by the mob while on their way to the paper’s offices. A short while before the attack, Le Jour had published two investigative reports on "death squads" in which they implicated the Ivoirian security forces.

An Agence France-Presse journalist was also attacked in Cocody, a residential neighbourhood in Abidjan, and demonstrators threw stones at his vehicle. N’Guessan N’Guessan, a photographer from the newspaper Fraternité Matin, was also assaulted by youth protesters in Abidjan’s Plateau neighbourhood. The youths ran off with the flash from his camera. Several newspapers were unable to publish on 27 January because of these incidents, including Le Jour, Le Patriote and Le Réveil.

Among the points in the treaty that deal with media, the new government of national reconciliation "condemns the incitement to hatred and xenophobia disseminated by certain media outlets", and aims to give greater power over to the media regulation authorities, in order to assure that the professional code of ethics is respected. The new government also plans to "guarantee the neutrality and impartiality" of public media outlets and "favour media’s financial independence". They have also pledged to reinstate broadcasts of international radio and television programmes.

In addition, a national human rights commission will be created, in order to assure "the protection of rights and freedoms in Côte d’Ivoire". The new government has committed itself to bringing the authors of major human rights violations before the International Criminal Court.

On 16 January, Reporters Without Borders had called on political parties and rebel movements taking part in the Côte d’Ivoire peace talks to make a real commitment towards instituting a freer and more responsible press in the country.

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