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Press Advocates Call on Ivory Coast to Lift Newspaper Suspensions

A woman with a baby on her back, votes at a polling station in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, December 11, 2011.
A woman with a baby on her back, votes at a polling station in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, December 11, 2011.

Ivory Coast’s government has come under sharp criticism from press freedom advocates, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), for suspending three daily newspapers and one editor in the West African country.

The stories that provoked the suspension include criticism of the ruling Outtara government as well as France, the United Nations and economic policy within Ivory Coast said CPJ’s Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.

“They have also suspended an editor from practice because of these stories, all opinion pieces,” said Keita, adding that after the country’s recent legislative elections, it is even more important to lift these suspensions.

“It is always a mark of a democracy when expressing your opinion is not a crime.”

Ivory Coast is recovering from last year’s violent conflict after then-president Laurent Ggabgo refused to cede power to Allasane Outtara, who garnered the most votes.

According to CPJ, nine out of the ten publications that the country’s National Media Regulatory Agency has suspended since Outtara eventually came to power are pro-Gbagbo papers.

Outtara has pledged to uphold democracy, says Keita, and he should do away with censorship.

CPJ has studied the content of the pieces that resulted in the suspensions of these publications and Keita adds that the entire Ivorian press process is highly politicized.

“This goes on both sides. On the Outtara side there are also newspapers who are also harshly criticizing Gbagbo supporters.”

The regulatory agency claims the papers violated ethics and insulated public officials, as well as made accusations without proof. But Keita stresses all of the pieces were presented as commentary.

“Within a democracy it’s not a crime to express your opinion.”

According to CPJ, one column referred to Ouattara as "an imposter" and described Prime Minister Guillaume Soro as "bloodthirsty."