Côte d’Ivoire: Arbitrary arrests, crackdown on dissent and torture ahead of Presidential election

Authorities in Côte d’Ivoire must end arbitrary arrests and harassment of people for perceived critical views and dissent, and immediately and unconditionally release those detained, Amnesty International said as next year’s presidential elections approaches.
In a new report, Côte d’Ivoire: A fragile human rights situation, submitted ahead of the country’s UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May, the organization highlights key human rights concerns including the use of repressive laws to crackdown on dissent.
“The Ivorian authorities’ use of repressive laws amid a crackdown on the right to freedom of expression has resulted in the arbitrary detention of scores of people simply for peacefully exercising their human rights,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.
“As next year’s presidential election approaches, the authorities should take immediate action to ensure people can freely express their opinion without fearing arrest. They must respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights before, during and after the election.”
At least 17 journalists have been arbitrarily detained in the last five years while the National Council of the Press has repeatedly sanctioned newspapers with suspensions and hefty fines. It has particularly targeted publications expressing perceived critical views about the authorities and close to opposition groups.
On 12 February 2017, six journalists were arrested and detained in Abidjan for their coverage of the mutinies. They were denied access to a lawyer while in police custody and subsequently charged with “publishing false news” and “inciting soldiers to mutiny”. They were released on 14 February 2017 but remained under police investigation.
Besides the journalists, political opponents and bloggers are also judicially harassed simply for expressing their opinion. On 29 January 2019, Alain Lobognon a Member of Parliament was charged with dissemination of false information and incitement to revolt and sentenced to one year in jail with a fine of around 460 Euros (300,000 Cfa).
Bans on peaceful assemblies
Peaceful assemblies organized by civil society organizations and opposition groups are regularly banned and dispersed with excessive use of force by the police and gendarmerie.
On 22 August 2018, the security forces dispersed a peaceful assembly organised by the Coalition Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (Coalition Ensemble pour la démocratie et la souveraineté) calling for reform of the Independent Electoral Commission. More than 40 protestors were arrested, including senior opposition figures.
“Arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment of activists and opposition leaders are part of a sustained attack on dissenting voices in Côte d’Ivoire,” said Francois Patuel.
The report also documents cases of torture and other ill-treatment particularly at the National Surveillance Directorate (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, DST), in police and gendarmerie stations or during demonstrations. On 8 November 2018, online activist Soro Tangboho also known as Carton Noir was arbitrarily arrested in the northern town of Korhogo. He was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment for having streamed live on Facebook police officers who were, according to him, extorting money from motorists. He was beaten in the premises of the police station where he spent two nights before being transferred to the DST.
Another example included in the report is the case of blogger and journalist Daouda Coulibaly who was assaulted by police officers while covering an opposition protest in Abidjan on 22 March 2018. He was kicked, beaten with batons on his knees and dragged on the ground. Amnesty International is not aware of any legal proceedings brought against the suspected perpetrators of torture and other ill-treatment or their hierarchy.
152 people died in detention
Investigations by Amnesty International have revealed that prison conditions in Côte d’Ivoire are inhumane, leading to a high number of deaths in custody. At least 152 people have died in detention since August 2014. In July 2018, some 16,000 people were detained across 34 prisons with a combined capacity of only 8,639. Around 5,800 of those in prison were held in pre-trial detention. Others were held in unofficial detention centres, including the DST.
“The authorities should launch a prompt, independent, impartial, effective and transparent investigation into allegations of human rights violations, identify and bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for these abuses, including torture and deaths in custody”, said Francois Patuel.
Offices of human rights organizations ransacked
Côte d’Ivoire is the first African country to have adopted a law to protect human rights defenders in 2014, with its decree of implementation adopted in 2017. Yet, human rights defenders often receive threats and their offices are regularly burgled. Over the last four years, the offices of six of the main human rights organizations have been ransacked, some repeatedly. Despite filing complaints to the police, no one has been brought to justice in relation to these crimes.
Impunity for human rights violations
Despite President Ouattara’s expressed commitment to ensure justice in all cases of violations of human rights, only those suspected of being supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo have been tried for serious human rights violations committed during and after the 2010 election.
Members of the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (Forces Republicaines de Côte d’Ivoire, FRCI), loyal to President Ouattara, suspected to be responsible for serious human rights violations, have not been brought to justice. These include the killing of more than 800 people in Duékoué (West) in April 2011, and the killing of 13 people at internally displaced people camp in Nahibly (West) in July 2012.
Several FRCI officials charged with crimes against humanity retain senior positions within the security forces and some were promoted in January 2017.  
The 6 August 2018 Ordinance adopted by President Ouattara, granting amnesty to 800 people accused or convicted of crimes relating to the 2010-2011 crisis or charged with attacks against the state, including Simone Gbagbo, denied victims the right to truth and justice.
“To prevent further violence in the context of the forthcoming election, the authorities must live up to their commitment of addressing past human rights violations including by taking immediate action to bring suspected perpetrators to justice in fair trials,” said Francois Patuel.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English): + 613-744-7667 ext. 236; lscholey@amnesty.ca