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"Oakland Post" publisher target of murder plot amid complications in probe of editor's murder

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is very concerned for the safety of Paul Cobb, the publisher of the "Oakland Post", a weekly based in Oakland, California, who was given police protection on 16 January 2008 after being told a contract had been put out for his murder. The threat to Cobb appears to be linked to the August 2007 murder of the newspaper's editor, Chauncey Bailey. A 19-year-old youth confessed to carrying out the murder but later retracted his confession.

"We would first like to express our support for Cobb and the Chauncey Bailey Project, which he helped to launch," RSF said. "It is rare for a US journalist to get police protection and it shows that the United States is no more immune to direct attacks on press freedom than other countries."

The organization added: "The repeated threats against Cobb since Bailey's death clearly refute the theory that it was an isolated act. The sole suspect's confession and retractions are not sufficient evidence. We are waiting to learn what the investigators have discovered, particularly as regards the local community organisation known as Your Black Muslim Bakery."

A 17 January article in the media magazine "Editor and Publisher" revealed that a man who had befriended Bailey before he was murdered recently told the police he was offered US$3,000 by two men linked to Your Black Muslim Bakery to lure Cobb to a place where he would be murdered.

On 16 January, Cobb met Oakland police chief Wayne Tucker, who placed him and the informant under protection. The source of this information is journalist Thomas Peele of the Chauncey Bailey Project, an alliance of 25 newspapers, radio stations, journalists association and journalism schools that was formed with the aim of shedding light on Bailey's murder.

One of the project's participants said financial problems due to a drop in advertising revenues, most of which were created by the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty since the murder, have forced Cobb to let some of his staff go, while other employees have resigned for fear of violence. Cobb has received several death threats since Bailey's murder. Cobb said six prospective editors to replace Bailey have declined offers to replace Bailey until the trial is over or the case is solved.

Bailey was an acknowledged leader of California's Afro-American community, which views the "Oakland Post" with respect. Aged 57, he was gunned down on an Oakland street in broad daylight on 2 August 2007 by a masked man dressed in black, just a few yards away from the city's law courts and three blocks away from the newspaper's offices, while Cobb was walking towards Bailey. Nothing was taken from Bailey.

Five days later, the police arrested Devaughndre Broussard, 19, an employee of Your Black Muslim Bakery, which runs a network of community bakeries, a security company and several schools. Broussard initially confessed to killing Bailey because of the journalist's negative articles about the organisation. But Broussard then retracted his confession, and pleaded not guilty during his court appearance on 24 January. His trial is not expected to take place until the summer.

Those close to Bailey say that, prior to his death, he was investigating some allegations of police wrongdoing as well as Your Black Muslim Bakery and its founder and leader, Yusuf Bey IV, who is suspected of involvement in protection rackets, murders and kidnappings. Bey is the son of a Black Muslim leader but his organisation is not affiliated to the Nation of Islam.

Bailey had reportedly discovered that Your Black Muslim Bakery was under the control of a gang. The firearm that killed him had allegedly already been used by Bey. Some press reports have talked of ties of friendship between Bey and Derwin Longmire, the police officer in charge of the Bailey murder investigation.

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