Reporters Without Borders condemns the “gratuitous and inexplicable” harassment of the daily L’Expression by the police for the past two weeks because of its coverage of opposition demonstrations last February in the west central city of Gagnoa and because it provided video footage of the ensuing violent reaction to the French TV news station France 24.
“Our newspaper is being made to pay for its independence,” L’Expression editor Dembélé Al Séni told the press freedom organisation yesterday by phone from the Abidjan headquarters of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST), the police intelligence department where he was being interrogated.
“Our credibility is proven,” Séni continued. “I suppose the authorities want us to toe the line. They are asking us all sorts of questions. Who finances the newspaper? Which political faction do we support? Where do we get our information? What are our intentions? But they have not denied any of the facts we reported. The demonstrations were widely covered in the press. Why are they picking on us?”
Reporters Without Borders said: “We urge the Ivorian authorities, especially the DST, to explain why they keep summoning L’Expression’s staff for questioning. The newspaper’s correspondent in Gagnoa did a serious job of reporting. Harassing its staff in this manner is not normal.”
After responding to a summons to present themselves to DST headquarters at 8:30 a.m. yesterday, Séni and L’Expression’s Gagnoa correspondent, David Gnahoré, spent the entire day there being interrogated by DST chief César Negbé and were not released until late in the evening. They were told to return at 11 a.m. today.
Gnahoré already received a summons to report to police headquarters in Gagnoa on 7 May. While being questioned at the DST two days later, his home was searched and his laptop was taken away. It still has not been returned to him.
Séni said the authorities are accusing L’Expression of “inciting violence” and “disseminating false information.” The offending article, published in the 20 February issue, was headlined: Mama militia opens fired: 5 dead, 19 wounded.”
Another L’Expression journalist was summoned for questioning at the national gendarmerie’s department of investigations at the start of May over a report about an arms cache discovered in Abidjan.