Côte d’Ivoire: Growing attacks on activists and opposition ahead of elections

Authorities in Côte d’Ivoire must put an end to the persistent attacks against civil society activists and opposition members, Amnesty International said ahead of the country’s Independence Day on 7 August.

14 activists have been arrested since the beginning of the year in a crackdown of dissenting voices. They include online activist Soro Tangboho, alias ‘Carton Noir’, whose sentence was increased from one to two years in prison following a full retrial on appeal of his case.

“The growing threats on peaceful activists and opposition members in this period of tense political activity may throw the country into instability ahead of next year’s elections,” said Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Regional Director.

“Tomorrow’s celebration of the Independence Day should be an opportunity that President Alassane Ouattara and his government must take to respect and promote the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly.”

Carton Noir was arbitrarily arrested on 8 November 2018 in the northern town of Korhogo while live streaming a video on Facebook showing police officers who were, according to him, extorting money from motorists.

He has been accused of ‘disrupting public order’ and ‘incitement to xenophobia’, detained and sentenced to one-year in prison. On 7 June 2019 a prosecutor appealed his one-year prison sentence and a full retrial of his case started on 24 July. He was sentenced on appeal to two years in prison on 31 July.

Prior to Carton Noir’s sentencing, six members of ‘les Indignés’ a civil society coalition, were arrested on 23 July, in front of the Election Commission headquarters while they were set to meet with officials following the postponement of a peaceful gathering planned the same day.

Nahounou Daleba a member of the coalition told Amnesty International:

“We had postponed our gathering and were going to the Electoral Commission for a meeting; but we were surprised to find tanks and police in front of the building. We were then arrested and taken to the police where we were questioned without a lawyer and then detained until the next day."

Opposition members are also harassed by authorities.

Professor Bamba Moriféré, President of the opposition party Rassemblement du Peuple pour la Côte d'Ivoire (RPCI in French), was arrested on 7 July in Abidjan and taken to the police before being released hours later. He was one of the main organizers of a 6 July rally which gathered opposition and civil society activists to denounce the fact that biometric national identity cards are not free, and a draft law reforming the Independent Electoral Commission. On 11 July he was again questioned by the police and accused of ‘incitement to insurrection, xenophobia and public disorder’.

On 1 July, Valentin Kouassi, a young opposition member was arrested by the police and brought to an unknown location without access to his lawyers following a rally he organized on 23 June in the southern town of Adzopé. He was released later, put under judicial supervision, charged with public disorder and prohibited from expressing himself in public on current affairs, on social media and to participating in meetings.

“Authorities have targeted and arrested activists and opposition members solely for expressing their political views or organizing peaceful protests. The government should release all such persons immediately and unconditionally and ensure that no one is arrested and imprisoned for that,” said Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry.