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Reporter gets one year in jail on defamation and extortion charges

(RSF/IFEX) - 3 August 2010 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the one-year jail sentence and fine of 5 million CFA francs (approx. 7,600 euros) that an Abidjan criminal court has imposed on Traoré Médandjé, a leading reporter for the daily "L'Intelligent d'Abidjan", on charges of defaming and trying to blackmail a former health ministry official.

The case was prompted by an article headlined "Vavoua's illegal boutique clinics", published on 4 September 2009, in which Médjandé accused then departmental director of health André Tia of getting rich by setting up illegal private clinics in the Vavoua region that had not been authorised by the health ministry.

The health ministry reacted to the story at the time by confirming the allegations and firing Dr. Tia for "activities contrary to the ethics of his profession". This did not stop Dr. Tia from filing a complaint against Medjandé a few months later, accusing him of defamation and an attempt to extort money.

The court imposed the sentences on 26 July at the request of the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor in charge of the case claimed that comments by Daha Didier, the head of the Union of Pharmacy Technicians and Managers, that were quoted in the article were defamatory. He also claimed that the fact that Medjandé interviewed Dr. Tia three times, in different places, showed that he was trying to extort money from him.

"This conviction is utterly absurd," Reporters Without Borders said. "Why must Medjandé be made to pay for an article that the government recognised as being accurate? The spurious extortion charge was cooked up in order to be able to impose a jail sentence. Meeting someone more than once does not prove intention to extort. Medjandé's intention was simply to draw the government's attention to a widely-known public health issue."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Côte d'Ivoire's rules of criminal procedure were also flouted in this trial. Médandjé was the only defendant. The police did not look for the person who made the allegedly defamatory comments and that person was not questioned by the judicial authorities. Everything suggests that this trial was staged simply to punish Médjandé."

Médjandé remains free pending the outcome of the appeal filed by his lawyer. A hearing has been set for October.

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