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Côte d’Ivoire23 January 2004

Journalist’s murderer sentenced to 17-years in prison

Reporters Without Borders said it was satisfied with a 17-year prison sentence on the murderer of French radio journalist Jean Hélène but blamed some Ivorian media for using extremist rhetoric to foment hatred, creating a hostile climate for foreign journalists.

Police Sergeant Théodore Séri Dago shot dead the journalist, who worked for Radio France International, on 21 October 2003 in front of the National Police (DGPN) headquarters in the capital Abidjan.

The international press freedom organisation also pointed the finger at some political figures who, it said, had done nothing to try to calm the situation. "Let us hope that this trial will also help pinpoint whom else shared responsibility for his death," it said.

Dago was jailed for 17 years on 21 January for murdering "Christian Baldensperger - known as Jean Hélène - but with "extenuating circumstances". He was also fined 500 000 francs CFA (about 760 euros) dismissed from the police force and stripped of his civil rights for 10 years. His lawyer Charles Kignima said he intended to appeal.

Reporters Without Borders, which had been represented as a civil party to the case, questioned, the "extenuating circumstances" that the jury found in the case. "What extenuating circumstances can there be when a police officer purely and simply kills a journalist carrying out their work?" it wondered.

Reporters Without Borders said it had on several occasions called on the head of state and on the government and political leaders to control media close to them. None of them acted on it.

It is now the responsibility of the authorities to do everything possible to see that such an episode never happens again and that Ivorian and foreign journalists can safely work in the country. The organisation also called on both pro and anti-government media to put an end to calls for violence and hatred and to respect basic ethical principles and professional code of conduct.

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