The three journalists – editor Saint Claver Oula, publisher Stéphane Guédé and managing editor Théophile Kouamouo were arrested by plain-clothes police on public prosecutor Raymond Tchimou Fehou’s orders and taken into custody after refusing to reveal their sources during a surprise visit at the Nouveau Courrier's offices. That morning Le Nouveau Courrier had published the first installment (see original in French here) in a series that was to last the whole week on the embezzlement investigation into 30 people in the coffe and cocoa national industry. According to Le Nouveau Courrier, these alleged policemen didn't have a search warrant but they carried out a search of all the computers at the newspaper's offices, looking to seize the original documents of the investigation that were to be published in subsequent days. During the search a computer was removed and criminal police superintendant Maxime Gogoua and other police officers pointed their guns at members of the staff.
The three journalists, who spent the last two nights in police custody in spite of the pressure to reveal their sources, are waiting to be taken before a judge and charged with “theft of administrative documents.” Since the news of their detention broke out yesterday they have been receiving visits of numerous colleagues and organizations who are showing their support, including the Groupement des éditeurs de presse de Côte d'Ivoire (the newspaper editors’ professional association). Some colleagues have pointed out that the first article in the official Code of Ethics for the Ivorian Journalist published by the Ministry of Communications (see original in French here) states that “the journalist has the right to the protection of his/her information sources”.
The Nouveau Courrier is a new information daily that started publication less than two months ago, on May 25th, with the intention of offering a fresh and in-depth perspective on current affairs.
Managing editor Théophile Kouamouo is French citizen of Cameroonian origin and a former correspondent of the French daily Le Monde who has been based in Abidjan for over a decade, and is a well-respected journalist as well as a regular journalism lecturer in Côte d'Ivoire and elsewhere. He's also one of the first and most popular bloggers in Francophone Africa, and a self-described serial web entrepreneur. One of his most successful internet endeavors has been the Ivorian blogging platform Ivoire-Blog. Last but not least, alongside his wife Nadine Tchaptchet-Kouamouo who is also a journalist, he's also been a recipient of a Rising Voices grant for his project Abidjan BlogCamps around blog trainings in Côte d'Ivoire.
Several bloggers and journalists have shown their support to Kouamouo and the rest of the Le Nouveau Courrier team through an online petition asking for their immediate release, as well as through Twitter and a Facebook group where they have shared updates about the case.
Reporters Without Borders released a statement saying that:
they had not seen such methods used by the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire for many years. The theft charge does not stand up. It should be borne in mind that protection of the confidentiality of sources is a fundamental principle of journalism, one that is particular appropriate for such a sensitive issue as corruption in the coffee and cocoa trade.