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Côte d'Ivoire: Blogger and Journalist Théophile Kouamouo Arrested with his Team since July 13th

On Tuesday July 13th, the blog of Le Nouveau Courrier [Fr], reported that they received an unexpected police visit after publishing that morning the first installment of an in-depth series that was to last the whole week on alleged corruption in the cocoa and coffee trade in Côte d'Ivoire (see original in French here).

[…] le journal a publié aujourd’hui, à sa une, un dossier exclusif au sujet de l’enquête sur les détournements dans la filière café-cacao titré : « Le livre noir de la filière café-cacao, comment les barons ont pillé l’argent des planteurs ».

Le boom que ce dossier a créé au sein du lectorat ce matin a mis en branle les services du procureur de la République Tchimou Raymond. Sur instruction de celui-ci et sans aucun mandat de perquisition, des commissaires et lieutenants de la police criminelle ont débarqué à la rédaction de Le Nouveau Courrier avec pour mission, disent-ils, de récupérer le document de base ayant servi à la rédaction de l’article. Après avoir fouillé tous les ordinateurs de la rédaction, ils ont finalement emportés avec eux un ordinateur portable au lieu du fameux document.

[…] the paper has published today, on the front page, an exclusive feature about the investigation on embezzlement in the coffee-cocoa trade titled: “The black book of the coffee-cocoa trade, how the baron's have pillaged the planters’ money.

The impact this report has had in the readership this morning has made public prosecutor Raymond Tchimou react. Under his orders and without a search warrant, criminal police officers have shown up at the Nouveau Courrier's offices with the goal, they said, to recover the source document used to write our article. After searching all the computers in the editorial offices, they finally left with a laptop instead of the famous document.

Following the unsuccessful search at Le Nouveau Courrier's offices, publisher Stéphane Guédé, managing editor Théophile Kouamouo and editor Saint Claver Oula were taken into police custody after refusing to reveal their sources.

The Nouveau Courrier is a new information daily that started publication in Côte d'Ivoire less than two months ago, on May 25th, with the intention of offering a fresh and in-depth perspective on current affairs. Managing editor Théophile Kouamouo is one of the first and most popular bloggers in Francophone Africa and the recipient, alongside his wife Nadine Tchaptchet-Kouamouo who is also a journalist, he's also been a recipient of a Rising Voices grant for his project Abidjan BlogCamps around blog trainings in Côte d'Ivoire. He is French citizen of Cameroonian origin and a former correspondent of the French daily Le Monde who has been based in Abidjan for over a decade, and is a well-respected journalist as well as a regular journalism lecturer in Côte d'Ivoire and elsewhere. A self-described serial web entrepreneur, one of his most successful internet endeavors has been the Ivorian blogging platform Ivoire-Blog.

Several bloggers and journalists have shown their support to Kouamouo and the rest of the Le Nouveau Courrier team through an online petition asking for their immediate release, as well as through Twitter and a Facebook group where they have shared updates about the case. Through that group we have learnt that the three journalists have been in police custody since Tuesday being, still pressured to reveal their sources, and that on Friday July 16th their case is to be heard by the judge. It seems they have being transferred to the MACA (Maison d'Arrêt Centrale D'Abidjan, Abidjan's Central Prison). Ivorian blogger Manasse Dehe, the creator of the Facebook group, wrote today:

il n'est plus question de les libérer , c'est là le problème. mais de trouver laquelle des fautes ils ont commis; c'est déjà décidé qu'ils doivent payer pr kkchose qu'ils n'ont pas fait. maintenant les …avocats luttent pour que ce qu'on va leur coller, soir la
plus petite des infractions : genre flagrant délit
Appelle le Président de la Republique à réagir sur ton mur ! Car lui qui est homme de Justice; il peut sortir les 03 journalistes du nouveau
courrier de cette souffrance qu'ils ne méritent pas !!!!

It's not about releasing them anymore, that's the problem. It's about finding which fault they have committed, it's been already decided that they have to pay for something that they haven't done. Now the lawyers are fighting for what they're going to put on them, even the smallest infraction
Ask the Président of the Republic to react on your wall! Because he's a man of justice, he can get the 3 journalists of Le Nouveau Courrier released of this suffering that they don't deserve!!!!

Saint-Clavier Oula in his cell today

This is the last update from Le Nouveau Courrier's Facebook page:

Théophile Kouamouo, Saint-Clavier Oula, Stéphane Bahi sont actuellement enfermés dans une cellule pleine à craquer. Attendant leur tour devant le juge. Oula est très affaibli. Il a commencé une grève de faim et refuse aussi de prende ses medicaments…

Théophile Kouamouo, Saint-Clavier Oula, Stéphane Bahi are locked up in a cell that's packed. Waiting for their turn to see the judge. Oula is very weak. He started a hunger strike and is also refusing to take his medicine….

Since the news of their detention broke out on Tuesday, the journalists have been receiving numerous shows of support by colleagues and bloggers in Côte d'Ivoire and abroad.

Reporters Without Borders released a statement on Wednesday 14th saying that:

they had not seen such methods used by the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire for many years. The theft charge does not stand up. It should be borne in mind that protection of the confidentiality of sources is a fundamental principle of journalism, one that is particular appropriate for such a sensitive issue as corruption in the coffee and cocoa trade.

In the Facebook group some colleagues have pointed out that the first article in the official Code of Ethics for the Ivorian Journalist published by the Ministry of Communications (see original in French here) states the rights of journalists in Côte d'Ivoire:

Tout journaliste doit revendiquer les droits suivants :
Article 1 : La protection de ses sources d’information.

It also states the duties of the journalists, among them:

Article 8 : Ne jamais révéler les circonstances dans lesquelles le journaliste a connu les faits qu’il rapporte, et ce, pour la protection de l’auteur des informations qu’il a pu recueillir.

This morning the Ivorian newspaper association (Gepci) issued a statement [Fr] condemning the arrest as an attack to freedom of expression in Côte d'Ivoire:

Emprisonner des journalistes pour les contraindre à violer leur propre déontologie en livrant leur source d'information n'est pas acceptable. Surtout que la loi 2004-643 du 14 décembre 2004 portant régime juridique de la presse n'autorise plus qu'un journaliste soit privé de sa liberté pour des faits, en rapport direct avec l'exercice de son métier, tels que ceux reprochés aux responsables et aux journalistes du quotidien Le Nouveau Courrier.

The Ivorian citizen journalism portal Avenue225 [Fr], who has been following the affair since Tuesday, reported that the newspaper unions who have pledged to publish the rest of the investigative report on the coffee and cocoa business if they're not released today.

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