Côte d’Ivoire: Authorities must uphold the right to fair trial of opposition members and their relatives

  • Five members of parliament among the 17 people arrested
  • A brother of presidential candidate Guillaume Soro forcibly disappeared 
  • Security forces searched some detainees’ houses without warrants

Authorities in Côte d’Ivoire must uphold the right to fair trial of opposition members and their relatives arrested over the last two weeks and ensure they have access to their lawyers and medical assistance, Amnesty International said today.

Rigobert Soro, a police officer and brother of the presidential candidate Guillaume Soro has been subjected to enforced disappearance since 30 December 2019. Dahafolo Koné, an aide to Soro’s lawyer, have been held without charge and access to a lawyer since 27 December. He was receiving treatment for a life-threatening condition and requires medical attention.

They are among 17 people related to the opposition in detention following a wave of arrests which took place between 23 and 31 December 2019 in Abidjan. Thirteen have been charged with ‘publishing false news, undermining public order and the authority of the state’. While they are in detention, security forces have searched several of their houses without warrants.

The authorities must immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of Rigobert Soro. They should ensure all detainees have access to a lawyer, medical assistance and allow their families to visit them. Subjecting people to enforced disappearance and preventing detainees to access their lawyers are gross human rights violations and a brazen attempt to intimidate opposition voices.
Francois Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher. 

“The authorities must immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of Rigobert Soro. They should ensure all detainees have access to a lawyer, medical assistance and allow their families to visit them. Subjecting people to enforced disappearance and preventing detainees to access their lawyers are gross human rights violations and a brazen attempt to intimidate opposition voices,” said Francois Patuel, Amnesty International West Africa Researcher.

“The timing of the legal proceedings against Guillaume Soro and the arrests of his supporters and relatives are highly suspicious. Given the irregularities in the proceedings, it would come as no surprise if these charges were politically motivated.”

Rigobert Soro is reported to have been arrested at the National School of Police where he was summoned on 30 December and detained at Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST in French) but authorities have refused to acknowledge his detention. Dahafolo Koné was arrested on 27 December is detained at the Agban Gendarmerie Camp.

Guillaume Soro, a former ally of President Alassane Ouattara, is the leader of the Générations et peuples solidaires political party (GPS in French). He had announced his candidacy for October’s presidential election and was returning to Abidjan when the Prosecutor issued a statement announcing an arrest warrant against him on 23 December.

He was charged with attempts to undermine the authority of the state and territorial integrity. In a separate case he was also charged for misappropriation of public funds, concealment of misappropriated public funds and money laundering.

As Soro’s flight was rerouted, his supporters decided to organize a press conference on 23 December 2019 at the GPS headquarters. Security forces stormed the venue, arrested them and brought them to the DST, a non-official detention centre where they were questioned without their lawyers.

Among those arrested and still in detention are five members of the parliament and GPS leaders: Alain Lobognon, Soro Kanigui, Kando Soumahoro, Yao Soumaïla, and Camara Loukimane.

The houses of several detainees, including the home of Rigobert Soro, were searched between 26 and 31 December 2019 without warrants by security forces. The home of the lawyer and Soro supporter Affoussiata Bamba Lamine was also searched in her absence, without presenting a warrant, and while no formal legal proceedings have been brought against her.

“As the 2020 presidential election approaches, the authorities must uphold the independence of the judiciary and refrain from using the criminal justice to persecute opposition leaders and critics," said François Patuel.