Sunday, July 18, 2010

Théophile Kouamouo: Arrested for publishing Corruption Report in Ivory Coast

A message calling my attention to the arrest and detention of a leading French-speaking African blogger - Théophile Kouamouo in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), was disheartening. On 13 July 2010, Théophile Kouamouo and two other journalists were arrested for publishing an article about alleged corruption in the cocoa and coffee trade sector in Côte d'Ivoire.

According to Global Voices, Théophile Kouamouo, a French citizen of Cameroonian origin, was arrested alondside two other journalists - Saint Claver Oula and Stéphane Guédé - all working for "Le Nouveau Courrier", a new news daily launched on 25 May 2010, on the orders of the Public Prosecutor - Raymond Tchimou Fehou.

The published corruption report contained details of the findings of the Prosecutor's investigation into corruption, including fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement, forgery, you name it, in the cocoa and coffee sector. Théophile Kouamouo and his colleagues were arrested, questioned and detained after refusing to reveal the source of the published information. On the morning of the arrest, plainclothes policemen allegedly stormed and searched the office of "Le Nouveau Courrier" without a search warrant.

It is worth  noting that Côte d'Ivoire is party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 19 of the ICCPR clearly states that: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." It therefore goes without saying that the state has an obligation to guarantee freedom of expression within its borders.

Théophile Kouamouo and his colleagues at "Le Nouveau Courrier" were arrested, questioned and detained for simply expressing views on the findings of an investigation into embezzlement in the cocoa and coffee sector. This, no doubt, is a violation of Article 19 of the ICCPR.

The Prosecutor seems to be unaware of the fact that Article 1 of the Code of Ethics for Ivorian Journalists, provides that journalists have the right to protect their information sources.  Arguably, by refusing to reveal their sources, Théophile Kouamouo and his colleagues demonstrated commendable professionalism and adherence to "house rules." Does adherence to a code of ethics constitute a crime?

You would agree that the arrest and detention of  journalists undermines human rights and the fundamental right to freedom of expression in Côte d'Ivoire and beyond. The arrest of Théophile Kouamouo and his colleagues is in line with a systematic crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of press in many African countries. In April, a journalist, Germain Ngota, died under mysterious circumstances behind bars in Cameroon; in Egypt, a young blogger - Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman is still in jail for expressing his views.

Should journalists, reporters and writers be arrested for seeking, receiving and imparting information?

Théophile Kouamouo and his colleagues have been deprived of liberty since 13 July, awaiting charges of "theft of administrative documents." In the interest of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the journalists should be released unconditionally.

Help secure the release of Théophile Kouamouo by signing this online petition.

UPDATE (26 July 2010): Thanks to a coordinated public outcry, all three journalists have been released, following a trial on 26 July 2010. However, the newspaper, Nouveau Courier, has been suspended for 15 days and slammed with a fine of 5 million CFA francs. Speaking out against human rights violations can make all the difference.

*Photo: Global Voices.

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