Nine newspapers that either support Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara or are independent have shut this week in protest at threats and harrassment by incumbent Laurent Gbagbo’s camp.
Press freedom watchdogs said on Tuesday the shut downs followed more than two months of physical threats and fines by the pro-Gbagbo media regulatory body.
Gbagbo and Ouattara are embroiled in a violent power struggle over a disputed November 28 presidential vote that electoral commission results showed Ouattara won, but which the incumbent refuses to concede, Reuters reports.
Deadly gun battles between forces claiming loyalty to each have erupted in Abijdan in the past week, and fighting has spread to the west.
The pro-Ouattara Nouveau Reveil was shut down for a week for showing bloody pictures of a repression by security forces of a demonstration in support of him. Others shut down in solidarity.
“Our concern for press freedom in Ivory Coast is mounting by the day,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement about the closures.
“We offer our support to the privately-owned newspapers that are being hounded and threatened and have decided to denounce a situation that has become impossible for the press.”
It also condemned the lynching of a journalist working for Gbagbo’s party newspaper Notre Voie in a suburb of Abidjan where many Ouattara backers live. He was beaten and hacked to death.
Ivory Coast has a wide choice of newspapers, but they are hugely biased and some of them restrict themselves to churning out propaganda for one side of the other.
Those that oppose Gbagbo are often hassled by soldiers who arrest their journalist or confiscate printing presses, the Ivorian Committee to Protect Journalists says. Two reporters from the rebel-held north have been detained since the end of January.
“We denounce these attacks on the liberty of the press. There are those who want to see one sole opinion, instead of a plurality,” said Stephene Goue, head of the committee. “We condemn the way the media has been taken as a target.”