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For Immediate Release
22 July 1996

Contact: Kakuna Kerina
(212) 465-1004, x103

CPJ Denounces Continued Imprisonment of Three Journalists in Côte d'Ivoire

NEW YORK--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today denounced the continued imprisonment of Ivoirien journalists Abou Drahamane Sangaré, Emmanuel Koré and Freedom Neruda of the independent daily newspaper La Voie, and appealed to the Ivoirien government for their release.

On 18 December 1995, La Voie published a satirical article suggesting that the presence of President Henri Konan Bédié brought bad luck to the Ivoirien soccer team when he attended the African Champions Cup final, which the local team lost. Director of publications Sangaré and reporter Koré were arrested on 21 December 1995 and sentenced on 28 December 1995 to two years in prison for "offenses against the head of state." La Voie was also fined three million CFA francs (US$ 6,000) and banned for three months. La Voie deputy-editor Neruda was arrested on 2 January 1996 and sentenced to a two-year prison term on 11 January 1996.

On 12 June 1996, an appeals court in Côte d'Ivoire confirmed the two-year jail sentences imposed on the three journalists. They are now appealing to the supreme court.

"President Bedie's attack on the La Voie journalists was his first official act towards the private press, just months after being elected to office, and firmly establishing his government's continued intolerance for press freedom," says Kakuna Kerina, Program Coordinator for Africa. "During his campaign, Bedie routinely imprisoned journalists and banned private newspapers, thus effectively outlawing free expression in Cote d'Ivoire."

Since President Bédié took office in December 1993, there has been an increase in prosecutions against independent journalists which have resulted in sentences of up to three years imprisonment. Physical attacks on Ivoirien journalists have also occurred: in June 1995, Mr. Sangaré was savagely beaten by four policeman at the order of Security Minister General Ouassenan Kone for an article he wrote in the satirical weekly, Bol Kotch, about the minister's treatment of student unrest in the country. The beating took place in Minister Kone's office, and in his presence.

CPJ contends that the sentences handed down against Sangaré, Koré and Neruda are unjustified and excessive. Having previously protested these convictions to President Bédié on numerous occasions, CPJ reiterates its calls for the reversal of the journalists' convictions, and their immediate, unconditional release.

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