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Three journalists arrested for leaking report on corruption

Three journalists in the Ivory Coast who refused to reveal their sources after publishing details of a government report on corruption in the coffee and cocoa trade were arrested on 13 July, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

The journalists published a front-page story in the private daily "Le Nouveau Courrier" leaking findings of a government report on 23 industry figures charged with corruption in an ongoing investigation ordered by President Laurent Gbagbo in 2007.

Managing editor Stéphane Guédé, news editor Théophile Kouamouo and editor-in-chief Saint-Claver Oula were arrested the same day the article hit the newsstands and accused of stealing confidential documents. Police raided the newspaper's office in search of the leaked report.

Ivory Coast law does not permit criminal penalties or pre-trial detention for journalists; however, for publishing offences, the theft of secret documents carries a prison sentence, reports IPI. The journalists were formally charged on 16 July with "theft of administrative documents", which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Saint-Claver Oula began a hunger strike and has refused medication despite suffering from a stomach ailment at the time of the arrest, says CPJ.

On 16 July, media groups at a news conference in Abidjan, the capital, threatened to publish the full report on the alleged embezzlement in their respective media outlets if the three journalists were not released.

In court on 20 July, the prosecutor called for a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 15,250 Euros against each journalist, as well as for the daily to be suspended and for the confiscation of the computer used in the story.

"Journalists have the right to refuse to divulge their sources where it is in the public interest to do so," said IPI. "This right is the cornerstone of the profession."

In another case, journalist Guy-André Keiffer was abducted in 2004 while investigating corruption in the cocoa industry. He remains missing.

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    Managing editor Stéphane Guédé, news editor Théophile Kouamouo and editor-in-chief Saint-Claver Oula of the daily "Le Nouveau Courrier" could face up to 10 years in prison.

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