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Côte d'Ivoire: Journalists accused of document theft are freed

The three journalists of Le Nouveau Courrier d'Abidjan arrested for refusing to reveal their sources have been finally released [Fr] this evening after a two-week ordeal. On July 13th, Le Nouveau Courrier published an investigative report on the coffee and cocoa export trade in Côte d'Ivoire, which provoked a police raid in the newspaper offices. Since they didn't find the base documents used for the article, and the editorial team refused to give them up, publisher Stéphane Guédé, managing editor Théophile Kouamouo [who is also a Rising Voices grantee] and editor Saint Clavier Oula were taken into police custody. Two days later they were taken to jail, where they have been waiting for their sentence since then. As quoted by Rue89 [Fr], they were accused of:

* « vol de document administratif »,
* « diffusion d'information sur un dossier judiciaire non encore évoqué à l'audience publique »,
* « révélation d'un document couvert par le secret ».

* theft of an administrative document,
* releasing information from a legal record not yet made public
* revealing a classified document

Théophile Kouamouo and Saint-Clavier Oula

The judge was supposed to issue a verdict last Friday, July 23rd, and numerous friends, colleagues and bloggers showed up at the court with t-shirts supporting the journalists that had been sold via Facebook and word of mouth during the previous days. The t-shirts read:

Front:

Liberté Fragile
Pour le journalisme d'investigation

Fragile Freedom
For investigative journalism

Back

Pour tous ceux qui:
-n'abandonnent jamais!
-oeuvrent pour la verité!
-croient en une liberté d'expression!

For all those who:
-never give up!
-work for the truth!
-believe in freedom of expression!

On Friday, the verdict was postponed until today for no apparent reason. The Ivorian Committee to Protect Journalists (who also issued a statement [Fr] about the case) organized a demonstration for their release in front of the court in Abidjan. According to witnesses from Avenue225 [Fr], the demonstrating journalists moved to the nearby cathedral under physical threats by the police. A bit later, Jean-Patrick Ehouman reported on Twitter:

à Abidjan, la police vient d'entrée dans la cathédrale pour s'en prendre aux journalistes manifestants.violation des franchises religieuses

In Abidjan, the police has just entered the cathedral to attack the demonstrating journalists. Violation of religious grounds.

Journalists demonstrating on July 23rd

The blog of Le Nouveau Courrier [Fr] reported violent police behavior:

Les hommes en tenue ont arraché, au vu et au su de tous les témoins, des portables de certains confrères. L’appareil photo d’un confrère de Nord-Sud quotidien – qui a essuyé des coups de matraque et bottes des agents de police – a été confisqué par les éléments du commissaire Oré. Il a dû se battre contre la horde de policiers pour retrouver son matériel de travail.

Men in uniform snatched mobile phones from certain colleagues, in front of various witnesses. The camera of a colleague from the daily Nord-Sud -who received some police batons and boots on him – was confiscated by the men under the command of superintendent Oré. He had to fight against a group of policement to recover his working materials.

Théophile Kouamouo in court

Today the stakes were high and the expectation was high at the court. The proceedings, which lasted several hours as the case was reviewed from the start, was live-tweeted by local open-source advocate Nnenna Nwakanma, using the hashtag #kouamouo. She reported the final verdict at around 8pm, local time:

Non coupable. Not guilty. That is the verdict. Thanks for all your support.
Verdict 2. Resell of stolen document: Not guilty
Verdict 3: Prosecutor's Comms officer stealing doc: not guilty
Verdict 4: Publishing information that is under legal process: guilty. Pay 10K USD and suspend journal for 15 days

However, the journalists won't be freed after tomorrow morning. After celebrating the good news, local entrepreneur and blogger Christian Roland asked [fr]

pourquoi un homme libre doit il dormir encore une nuit en prison a cause de la procédure????

Why a free man still has to sleep one more night in prison because of the procedure????

And he added:

C'est décidé dans 15 jours je m'abonne au nouveau courrier

I made up my mind: In 15 days I'm suscribing to Le Nouveau Courrier

On Facebook, photos of messages of celebration were pouring in. Manasse Dehe, the creator of the group “POUR LA LIBERATION DE THEOPHILE KOUAMOUO ET SES COLLABORATEURS” wrote the following message:

Vive la liberté de la Presse. Merci, merci, merci, nous n'oublierons jamais tous ceux qui ont signé les pétitions en ligne, qui ont mis à jour leurs statuts par rapport à la libération des journalistes du nouveau courrier, et qui sont allés les voir en prison. Maintenant on parlera de tout ceci au passé. Nous avons obtenu la victoire et c'est en partie grâce à vous !!!!!

Préparons nous à accueillir les héros du journalisme d'investigation, ceux qui mettent leurs vies en péril pour offrir aux ivoiriens l'information de qualité. Que du Bonheur ce soir au sein de la rédaction du Nouveau Courrier ce soir

Long live Press Freedom. Thank you, thank you, thank you, we will never forget those who signed the online petitions, who have updated their statuses for the release of Le Nouveau Courrier journalists, and those who went to see them in jail. Now we will talk about what has happened. We have won and it's in part thanks to all of you!!!!!

Let's get ready to receive these heros of investigative journalism, those who have put their lives in danger to offer quality information to Ivorians. There's a lot of joy in Le Nouveau Courrier tonight

2 comments

  • […] three journalists were freed on 26th of July after spending two-weeks in prison. Richman reports: The law has spoken. A court […]

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