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Climate of fear prevents journalists from working freely in Côte d’Ivoire

Crisis continues: An Ivorian soldier mans a checkpoint in the Abobo area of Abidjan January 13, 2011. Forces loyal to Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo eased a blockade on Thursday around the scene of clashes between rival political camps in Abidjan after a night of calm under curfew, witnesses said.

Acts of intimidation and violence against journalists continue in Côte d’Ivoire, as the political crisis resulting from the November 28 presidential election drags on with no sign of a resolution in sight, according to Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).

“We deplore the climate of fear in Abidjan for journalists trying to cover developments,” RSF secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “The continuing struggle between Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, the violence and the deterioration in the situation are making life very difficult for them. Exposed to major harassment and security problems, the press has been a hostage since November 28.” Several Ivorian journalists have spoken about their concerns to RSF on condition of anonymity.

“It is true that our newspapers are still coming out, but it is now very difficult to work in peace,” a print media journalist said. “We receive death threats every day in SMS messages or phone calls. Today, for fear of being attacked, we were forced to abandon the newspaper’s headquarters and work elsewhere.”

The editor of an Ivorian daily said: “Despite our independence and our attempts to be neutral, we have been pressured by the president’s office, which does not want us to refer to Alassane Ouattara as the ‘president-elect.’ So we are forced to call him the ‘former prime minister’ or ‘mentor of the RHDP’ party.”

After a dangerous month of December, journalists risked their lives again to cover this week’s deadly clashes between, on one hand, police, gendarmes and soldiers and, on the other, the population of certain Abidjan districts such as Abobo, in the north of the city, which is reputedly pro-Ouattara. “We have no protection, we don’t know where the shots are going to come from,” an Ivorian journalist said.

A crew with the pan-African TV station Vox Africa accompanying UN peacekeepers in the Yopougon district of Abidjan on January 11 found Kalashnikovs being pointed at them by members of the Republican Guard and the Security Operations Command Centre (CECOS), formed by the gendarmerie and the Anti-Riot Squad (BAE). The cameraman was forced to surrender his camera to the Republican Guard under threat of being shot. The crew recovered it yesterday at the headquarters of the Abidjan gendarmerie’s criminal investigation department.

In the state-owned media, especially Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) and the daily Fraternité Matin, journalists are being blacklisted if they are known or assumed to be supporters of Ouattara’s party, the Houphouëtiste Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). One, the host of a sports programme, was prevented from broadcasting on 5 January. Others have stopped going to work.

Alain le Roy, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, ONUCI, said at the start of January that the mission was encountering “very serious difficulties” because of growing hostility from the population that was being fuelled by the “mendacious claims” being broadcast by the state-owned RTI.

The UN Security Council responded on January 10 by demanding “an immediate halt to the use of media, especially RTI, to propagate false information to incite hatred and violence, including against the UN.”

Date posted: January 14, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 131