Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media. Other times the application of this law raised questions of political influence.
In December 2020, during a concert in Abidjan, two popular singers questioned the impartiality of the public prosecutor’s investigation into violence committed during the presidential election period. Authorities detained the singers, and a court convicted them the next day of propagating false information, contempt of court, and discrediting the judicial system. Both were given a one-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay a substantial fine.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offenses committed by means of press or by other means of publication.” The law, however, provides for substantial fines for anyone found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by other means of publication.
Virtually all press outlets were government-affiliated or were owned by politicians or other wealthy individuals. Government-affiliated media frequently reflected the political views of the government. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime- and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation and subsequent claims that opposition media were more likely to be charged with that offense.
The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations and is generally viewed as supportive of the government and more likely to impose sanctions on media close to the opposition. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it gave far more coverage to the ruling party’s political activities. There were numerous local and national independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, or smaller, local-level radio stations that are independently run. The regulatory authority, however, allowed community radio stations to run political programs if they employed professional journalists. These stations could also rebroadcast political content reported by other media outlets during official campaigning periods. The owners of these stations reported they often self-censored and avoided broadcasting political content, such as political debates and interviews with political leaders, because they feared being sanctioned or shut down by the communications authority.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities due to their reporting.
In March while covering the funeral of the recently deceased prime minister in Seguela, journalist Jonas Baikeh attended a meeting at the ruling party’s headquarters. Baikeh witnessed the head of a state-owned company fall ill and nearly collapse. Baikeh reported the event on his newspaper’s website shortly after it occurred, which angered some ruling party supporters present. The supporters threatened to kill Baikeh if he did not leave the town by 6 p.m. that evening. Baikeh left the scene and hid before returning to Abidjan. Authorities took no action against the persons who threatened Baikeh.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Both independent journalists and journalists affiliated with the state-owned media stated they regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate. Human rights organizations reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics, and media often only published stories critical of the government after the same reporting had appeared in international publications.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by criminal prosecution. In addition to government prosecution, individuals can bring criminal defamation cases against other individuals.
In July authorities arrested Alerte Zatte, a cyberactivist, for publishing a video on social media critical of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo. In the video, Zatte accused Simone Gbagbo of hoping for Laurent Gbagbo’s death and ordering allies to insult him on social media. Authorities detained Zatte at the airport while she was waiting to board a flight to France, where she resided. A court sentenced Zatte to six months in prison and levied a substantial fine for defamation.
Nongovernmental Impact: In June the minister of national reconciliation visited the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, one of the country’s main opposition parties, as part of a series of meetings to encourage political dialogue. In response, four to five members of the party’s youth wing knocked over microphones set up for a postmeeting press conference and demanded that journalists covering the event leave. According to media reports, the youth-wing members were protesting the party’s normalization of relations with the government while several of the party’s members remained in prison. When the journalists refused to leave, the youth-wing members attacked the journalists, injuring several and destroying some of their equipment. After the incident the party issued a statement apologizing to the journalists and the minister of national reconciliation.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: There were reports of impediments to internal travel. Although some roadblocks set up by security forces served legitimate security purposes, extortion of bribes was sometimes reported. Civil society organizations reported instances in which members of the security forces, deployed to the north of the country to interdict criminals and violent extremists, set up unofficial checkpoints in forests and other unpopulated areas and demanded bribes for travelers to pass.
In April international organizations and the government estimated there were 900 internally displaced persons (IDPs), down from 16,700 after the 2020 election. International organizations reported that the vast majority of IDPs who fled their homes because of feared or experienced violence associated with the 2020 presidential election had returned home voluntarily in the months following the election. The government actively coordinated with international organizations to register and deliver services to the IDPs.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: Although there is no national asylum law, the country provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established an administrative system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers awaiting adjudication of their application enjoy a full set of basic rights, including freedom of movement, health care, and education. Asylum seekers are not entitled to work until they receive refugee status.
Durable Solutions: UNHCR reported it is almost impossible for refugees to be naturalized, except through marriage to a citizen. UNHCR was aware of only one case of nonmarital naturalization: a resident living in the country for more than 20 years who was granted nationality through a presidential decree.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who did not qualify as refugees. Nationals of ECOWAS member states may remain in the country with a valid identification document (i.e., a national identity card or passport) from their country of origin. Non-ECOWAS African nationals and nationals of other countries must obtain a residency permit within 90 days of their asylum claim rejection or face deportation. To obtain a residency permit, non-ECOWAS African nationals must submit their asylum rejection letter and pay a substantial fee. Residency permit requirements for other nationals are based on reciprocity between the country and the applicant’s country of origin.
g. Stateless Persons
The government did not report the number of persons believed to be stateless. With birth registration a requirement for citizenship, all unregistered children were at risk of statelessness. UNHCR estimated 16,000 persons in the country were at “very high risk” of statelessness, out of an estimated 1.65 million persons living in the country without citizenship documents. This figure included an estimated 519,000 abandoned children and foundlings (i.e., abandoned children of unknown parentage), who were at risk of statelessness because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law. Such children were deprived of the opportunity to attend high school (which is legally compulsory until the age of 16, but also requires the presentation of identity documents as part of the enrollment process), and, as adults, would be unable to open a bank account, travel abroad freely, purchase land, gain lawful employment, or vote or exercise other political rights, such as running for office.
Stateless persons reportedly faced numerous significant additional difficulties, such as in accessing health services, marrying civilly, or receiving an inheritance. Social stigma and harassment can also accompany statelessness.
The government has policies to resolve the status of certain stateless persons. In 2020 the government formally established legal procedures for some individuals to petition the government for a formal determination of statelessness status. According to UNHCR a determination of statelessness would pave the way for an individual to receive identity documents and access to other legal processes. Also, according to UNHCR, a rejected application for stateless status means the adjudicating bodies believe the applicant is in fact entitled to a particular nationality.
In February the government inaugurated the governmental commissions tasked with adjudicating claims of statelessness and began training the adjudicators of these bodies. As of October, the commissions had not begun to adjudicate cases.