Ivory Coast lashes out at US State Dep't report

AP News
Posted: May 28, 2013 8:09 AM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast's government lashed out at the United States Embassy in Abidjan over a report citing restrictions on press freedom including the suspension last year of several opposition media outlets.

The report "contains deficiencies" that undermine its credibility and the embassy should have presented its findings to the government before going public with them, Communications Minister Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine said.

"Furthermore, it does not provide concrete proof of the claims contained in the document. These two major shortcomings discredit this report in all respects," Bamba-Lamine said in a statement Monday.

The State Department's annual report on human rights in Ivory Coast said there had been "limited restrictions on press freedom" in 2012 and highlighted temporary suspensions levied against opposition newspapers and journalists.

Newspapers in Ivory Coast are highly partisan, and the report acknowledged that those loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo "frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government and fabricated stories to defame political opponents."

Gbagbo's refusal to cede office after losing the November 2010 presidential runoff vote to current President Alassane Ouattara sparked five months of violence that claimed at least 3,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

Last August, the National Press Council suspended the opposition newspaper Le Temps for 20 editions over an opinion piece that compared Ouattara to a "ghoulish vampire." The council said the paper was guilty of "questioning the honorability of the president."

The following month, six opposition newspapers were suspended after they published photographs of Gbagbo allies along with official titles that had been given to them illegitimately during the postelection crisis. The embassy along with groups like Reporters Without Borders spoke out against those suspensions at the time, prompting their eventual reversal.

Ouattara's government has received steady criticism from Reporters Without Borders over its treatment of opposition journalists. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the government granted the provisional release of Ousmane Sy Savane, the head of the publishing house that owns Le Temps and other opposition publications. Savane had been held for more than a year on charges of "endangering state security" without any evidence being presented against him, according to Reporters Without Boarders.

Still, Ivory Coast climbed 63 places in the group's 2013 freedom index, something Bamba-Lamine pointed out in her statement. She said the government was committed to promoting press freedom, citing as an example its push to have exiled journalists return to the country.

The State Department's most recent human rights report said the biggest problems plaguing Ivory Coast in 2012 were abuses by the security forces and "the government's inability to enforce the rule of law." It also cited problems with the prison system and the judiciary, which it described as inefficient and corrupt.