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Abidjan Blog Camps: Free Théophile Kouamouo

Théophile Kouamouo

Théophile Kouamouo

We have got worrying news from Ivory Coast. Théophile Kouamouo, one of Francophone Africa's leading bloggers, and the project leader of the Rising Voices grantee Abidjan Blog Camps has been arrested for publishing a newspaper report. Théophile Kouamouo, a French citizen of Cameroonian origin and a resident of Ivory Coast, is the Managing Editor of Le Nouveau Courrier, a new Ivorian daily launched in May 2010. On 13th of July, 2010 the newspaper published the first of a series of five articles on the “burning issue” of the coffee and cocoa sector which contained information of a recent report on the investigation of 30 people by public prosecutor Raymond Tchimou submitted to the president.

From Theophile's blog [fr]

It relates in great details the facts upon which the ‘barons’ of the industry, including leading figures Henri Amouzou and Lucien Tapé Doh are charged of having committed incredible felonies for the purpose of diverting tens of billions of CFA francs from the sector's fund.

Fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement, forgery and use of forgery, misuse of company assets … Le Nouveau Courrier describes in great detail the methods used, citing financial manipulations, purchases of properties in France, bank accounts in Monaco etc.

Image Courtesy Jean-Christian De Irie

Image Courtesy Jean-Christian De Irie

Reporters Without Borders reports about the arrest of Théophile and his two colleagues [fr]

By order of Raymond Tchimou Fehou, Prosecutor of the county court, three journalists from Le Nouveau Courrier d'Abidjan, Saint Claver Oula, editor, Steéphane Guédé, newspaper editor and Théophile Kouamouo, managing editor, were arrested by the Criminal Police. The prosecutor accused them to have published the findings of his own investigation into the embezzlement in the cocoa-coffee sector. The classified document had been handed over a few weeks earlier to President Laurent Gbagbo.

Tuesday, July 13, the prosecutor summoned editor Théophile Kouamouo to his office to compel him to disclose his sources. The journalist declined. The prosecutor then ordered him to be arrested by criminal police, who kept him in custody after the hearing. The newspaper's premises were then searched.

Reporters Without Borders reminds that protection of sources is a fundamental principle of the practice of journalism and demands release of the journalists.

Connectionivorienne.net reports claiming a source that if the source was named these journalists could avoid arrest [fr]:

Other sources claim however that things will sort themselves out, “there is nothing serious, the Prosecutor is only annoyed and he just wants to know the source, who it was that provided the top-secret file meant for the head of the state, at the Nouveau Courrier editorial staff. “

Our attempts to contact Mr. Patrice Pohe, press secretary of the prosecutor, remained unsuccessful.

Yoro (Israël Yoroba) of Abidjan Blog Camps informs at Avenue 225 Blog [fr] about the latest condition of Théophile Kouamouo in prison:

The meeting with Théophile Kouamouo took place in a relaxed atmosphere. His pace and good mood are undeterred. “We're doing fine,” he reassures. The editorial director of the “Le Nouveau Courrier” is willing to go back over this imprisonment which hides some unspoken intentions on the part of Prosecutor Tchimou.

For the newspaper's editors, it is out of the question to yield to pressure. “We remain strong and worthy of the trust of our readers and especially of our profession. The main issue here is that the prosecutor is asking us to reveal the sources of our information and if we don't, he'd put us right away in jail.” Kouamouo and his colleagues by refusing to reveal their source(s) say they want to preserve the spirit of journalism. “The stand we defend is that if a journalist has to disclose his sources to a prosecutor, that means that the profession itself has disappeared. We stand firm for our readers, for the corporation and our idea of democracy. “

We demand the earliest release of Theophile Kuoamouo and his colleagues. Here is a petition you can sign to show your support.

Update: Global Voices author Elia Varela Serra reports in Global Voices Advocacy site:

The three journalists, who spent the last two nights in police custody in spite of the pressure to reveal their sources, are waiting to be taken before a judge and charged with “theft of administrative documents.” Since the news of their detention broke out yesterday they have been receiving visits of numerous colleagues and organizations who are showing their support, including the Groupement des éditeurs de presse de Côte d'Ivoire (the newspaper editors’ professional association). Some colleagues have pointed out that the first article in the official Code of Ethics for the Ivorian Journalist published by the Ministry of Communications (see original in French here) states that “the journalist has the right to the protection of his/her information sources”.

Several bloggers and journalists have shown their support to Kouamouo and the rest of the Le Nouveau Courrier team through an online petition asking for their immediate release, as well as through Twitter and a Facebook group where they have shared updates about the case.

Global Voices author and Translator Suzanne Lehn helped us with the Translation.

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