An Ivorian journalist who was imprisoned for almost a week by authorities in the Ivory Coast has now been charged with defamation and insulting the head of state, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports this week, calling on the government of Alassane Ouattara to drop the charges against Joseph Titi and release him immediately.
Abidjan-based Titi, a journalist and publisher of the privately-owned daily Aujourd’hui (Today), was detained on July 29 after his July 21 article alleged the involvement of President Ouattara in illicit funds transfers, money laundering, and embezzling funds from the International Monetary Fund-World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, the CPJ said.
The article cited classified documents that allegedly originated from France’s defence and spy intelligence agency, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE).
The article was written under Titi’s penname Sévérine Blé, the New York-based media watchdog said.
If convicted, the journalist faces a fine of between US$17,000 and US$34 000 under the country’s Press Law, which excludes imprisonment for the offences.
Titi told the CPJ that he was questioned about the article for five hours the day before he was arrested. He denied the charges against him and told CPJ he stood by the story.
Local journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers told CPJ they believe the charges against Titi were politically motivated and stem from a series of articles he published in July, including the July 21 story.
The articles, all of which cite classified documents allegedly from the DGSE, accuse Ouattara of complicity in planning to rig the October 2015 elections, recruiting mercenaries, and purchasing arms in violation of a United Nations arms embargo.
The articles also mentioned alleged plans by France to oust Ouattara from power, according to CPJ’s review of the articles.
This week, Aujourd’hui began re-publishing the stories.
“The actions Ivory Coast authorities have taken against Joseph Titi smack of harassment and attempted intimidation in response to his paper’s serious allegations against President Alassane Ouattara ahead of the country’s elections,” said CPJ West Africa representative Peter Nkanga said in a statement.
“We call on the government to drop all charges against Titi and to allow journalists to report on issues of public interest without fear of reprisal.”
Photo: Ivory Coast capital Abidjan