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Pro-Ouattara newspapers stop publishing in protest against "serious threats to free press"

(MFWA/IFEX) - The group of nine newspapers supporting Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised President of Cote d'Ivoire, began an indefinite suspension of their publications on 1 March 2011 to protest against constant harassment and intimidation by pro-Gbagbo forces.

The Media Foundation for West Africa's (MFWA) correspondent reported that what prompted the action of the newspapers was the suspension of six newspapers by the print media regulatory body, the National Press Council (CNP), which was recently constituted by Laurent Gbagbo's government before the expiration of the old CNP.

The Gbagbo-controlled CNP in a communiqué issued on RTI on 25 February announced the suspension of the daily "Le Nouveau Réveil" for a period of one week and also imposed fines of between 1 and 2 million CFA francs (approx. US$2,066 and 4,132) on three other dailies, "Le Patriote", "Nord-Sud" and "Le Jour Plus".

This was after editors and representatives of six Ouattara newspapers have been grilled on 22 February by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ivorian police at the behest of the public prosecutor over their news reports in the wake of the political crisis in the country. They were accused of "inciting the public to civil disobedience and insubordination with regard to the authority of the state." The editors and journalists were interrogated on a wide range of issues including the reference to Gbagbo as "Mr. Gbagbo" and Alassane Ouattara as "President Ouattara."

According to the group's spokesman, Dembele Al Seni, they have been affected by high-handed political decisions by pro-Gbagbo authorities which are taking ruthless measures aimed at closing down their newspapers.

In a separate development, some members of the Rally of Houphouétistes for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), a group supporting Alassane Ouattara, prevented the distribution of pro-Gbagbo newspapers in the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country on 1 March.

MFWA's correspondent reported that Edipress, a newspaper distribution company, was prevented from distributing the pro-Gbagbo newspapers in several towns and forced to return to Abidjan.

The correspondent said the RHDP supporters took the action on the same day that the nine pro-Ouattara newspapers suspended publication in protest against alleged harassment and intimidation from the pro-Gbagbo authorities.

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