Two newspaper journalists detained illegally in Côte d’Ivoire

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of two journalists with the opposition newspaper Le Quotidien, whose arrests yesterday in Abidjan on a charge of “divulging false news” violated Côte d’Ivoire’s press law.

Dan Opeli and Yves Kuyo were arrested over a report in the newspaper’s 28 July issue claiming that National Assembly speaker Guillaume Soro was the target of a judicial investigation and that his bank accounts had been frozen.

They are being held at the National Gendarmerie’s department of investigations at the behest of Abidjan-Plateau district prosecutor Richard Adou, who denied the report. Soro himself has not brought any legal action or demanded the right to reply in the newspaper.

The arrests of the two journalists and their continuing detention is very disturbing inasmuch as press offences were decriminalized by the 2004 press law, which is still in effect.

“We call on the judicial authorities to free Dan Opeli and Yves Kuyo because the press law in effect in Côte d’Ivoire does not allow journalists to be detained, said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. Journalists cannot be jailed for what they report. If it is defamatory or mendacious, legal recourse is available.”

Prosecutor Adou often takes advantage of one of the flaws in the press law’s wording in order to bring charges against journalists that are linked to the criminal code. The authorities also try to defend their actions by arguing that police custody and preventive detention do not constitute imprisonment.

Under the press law, only the National Press Council, the body that regulates and manages the media, is authorized to punish journalists for any breach of the law. Prosecutor Adou has nonetheless increasingly allowed himself to take liberties with press freedom since Alassane Ouattara became president in December 2010.

This is not the first time that journalists have been detained improperly for press offences. Six newspaper owners and journalists were detained for several days in February on charges of “publishing false news” and “inciting army personnel to insubordination and rebellion.” The case is still pending before the Abidjan-Plateau district court.

Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 81st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.