The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) today expressed their deep concerns over the escalating war in Ivory Coast and the impact on civilians, including Ivorian and foreign journalists in the country.
According to the International Red Cross Committee, 800 people were killed last week in the intercommunal war between forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara and those supporting incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.
Journalists were reported to have been threatened and frequently intimidated by both forces competing to manipulate news and information.
Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) has reportedly become a propaganda tool after changing hands between forces loyal to Ouattara and Gbagbo.
"We are very much concerned about the situation spiralling out of control, the threats against journalists and the manner in which warring sides are attempting to control the media information system of the country. Media has become gravely endangered by this fight for control," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President.
Forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo were reported as trying to block news website they deem to be in opposition, according to an order issued by Sylvanus KLA, Director General and CEO of Agence des Télécommunications de Côte d'Ivoire (ATCI), a political appointee of the Gbagbo government.
"The War in Abidjan and the rest of the country has created confusions, chaos and a crackdown on journalists. Our fear is that when politicians turn their fight into a fully-fledged intercommunal war, journalists end up being divided at a time when they should be more focused on their job of informing the public and extending solidarity to each other in the face of serious danger," said Omar Faruk Osman, FAJ President.
Journalists in Abidjan are afraid to go out of their houses and workplaces for fear of being targeted. It is also reported that the pro-Gbagbo Criminal Investigation Department officers, have targeted journalists for interrogation.
"We demand that violence and hostilities cease so that the lives of civilians can be spared. Using journalists and targeting those who refuse to take sides cannot be tolerated. We call on the warring sides to refrain from harming journalists whichever community group they belong to," said Mohamed Garba, WAJA President.
FAJ, IFJ and WAJA call on the rival warring sides to show restraint, respect the rights of journalists to carry out their work in safety and stop interfering in media affairs.
In such situations, international laws must be respected and enforced. The right to free expression and freedom of the press are essential to bring about a peaceful resolution of disputes over elections, said the three journalists organisations.
For more information contact the IFJ at +221 33 867 95 86/87
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide
International Federation of Journalists
Africa Regional Office
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BP 64257, Dakar Senegal
Tel: +221- 33 867 95 86/87; Fax: +221- 33 827 02 50