Côte d'Ivoire
Concerns about journalists' safety in Côte d'Ivoire

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Fraternité Matin (govt newspaper)

Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan

Authorised press censorship

Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan

afrol News, 26 September - There are growing concerns about the safety of journalists covering the ongoing military crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. While foreign broadcasters are being jammed due to the "state of war", there are reports of attacks on journalists reporting for the opposition's media.

According to several sources in the capital, Abidjan, at least one local journalist was badly beaten by troops loyal to the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, who have been fighting mutinous soldiers variously described as rebels, foreign mercenaries, and "terrorists" by the state media. 

On 21 September, supporters of the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) attacked and severely injured Mamadou Keïta, a reporter for the opposition daily 'Le Patriote', said sources in Abidjan. Keïta, who was covering an FPI rally, was later admitted to a hospital with wounds on his head and back. His colleagues at 'Le Patriote' said his condition is improving. 

The 'Concord Times', a daily based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, has also voiced concerns about the safety of its sports reporter, Mohamed Fajah Barrie, who is trapped along with the rest of the city, in Bouaké, where he was covering a soccer tournament. Bouaké is one of two towns controlled by the rebels. 

Meanwhile, four publications in Côte d'Ivoire that are known for their brash anti-government line — 'Le Patriote', 'Tassouman', 'Le Liberal', and '24 Heures' — have temporarily suspended operations for fear of being attacked by government supporters, who have raided and burned down a number of newspaper kiosks in Abidjan, according to the BBC.

Nearly 300 people have been killed and at least 300 have been wounded in a week of fighting centred mostly in the northern part of the country, said government sources. 

Foreign broadcasts jammed
Since 22 September, Ivorian authorities have also been jamming the broadcast signals of local FM stations that relay programs from the BBC, Radio France Internationale (RFI), and the pan-African station Africa No 1. On 23 September, the head of the official National Audiovisual Committee, Jerome Diegou-Bailly, explained that "in a state of war, one must manage the information in order not to spread death and disruption among the population."

Independent journalists in Côte d'Ivoire, however, have expressed scepticism at the government's motives for banning the three foreign broadcasters. Some point to comments from the government and the ruling-party press that have accused foreign news outlets of working to destabilise the country, reports the US group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which today stated its "grave concern" over the safety of journalists in Côte d'Ivoire. 

A 22 September editorial in the FPI daily, 'Notre Voie', called the BBC, RFI, and Agence France-Presse "the other adversaries of Vôte d'Ivoire," a formerly stable nation that has been beset with political unrest since late 1999, when the army seized control in the country's first ever coup.

Meanwhile, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all sent troops to the country with a mandate to protect Westerners and, if needed, to coordinate their evacuation. 

Sources: Based on CPJ,  press reorts and afrol archives

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