Côte d'Ivoire - From our correspondent

Journalists go free in Côte d'Ivoire

news.abidjan.net

Three journalists arrested two weeks ago in Côte d'Ivoire have been freed. Theophile Kouame, Stephane Guede and Saint Clavier Oula were arrested on 14 July for theft of government documents after they published a report on corruption in the cocoa and coffee industry in Côte d'Ivoire.

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On Monday night at a courthouse in Abidjan, a judge ordered the men to pay one franc each as a symbolic fine for breaking press conduct laws. Their newspaper, Le Nouveau Courrier, was fined five million francs (about 7,500 euros) and has been banned for 15 days.

When the verdict came down, rules in the courtroom prevented the journalists from celebrating, but their supporters gathered in the hallway broke out into loud cheers.

The case had become a symbolic freedom of the press issue in Côte d'Ivoire, which prides itself on having a robust and free media.

After the three journalists had their offices raided following the publication of an exposé on corruption in the cocoa industry, there has been widespread protest both here and abroad.

Reporters Without Borders took up their case, and local journalist organisations have organised protests, sit-ins and petition-writing campaigns.

All because the journalists refused to reveal their sources. The prosecutor didn't dispute the veracity of the facts published in the report; he simply wanted to know how the journalists got the secret information.

Because there is no law in Côte d'Ivoire that obliges journalists to reveal their sources, they were charged with stealing government documents.

The verdict was delayed last Wednesday, and the journalists spent another five days in jail. Today they are free men after paying their one franc fine, which is the equivalent of less than one cent.

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