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Côte d’Ivoire: Set Trial or Free Activist

Prolonged Pretrial Detention Violates International Legal Obligations

(Dakar) - The Côte d'Ivoire government should begin formal proceedings against a long-detained Ivorian civil society leader and government critic or order his release, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Ivorian justice minister. Prolonged pretrial detention violates Côte d'Ivoire's obligations under international law.

In the letter to Minister of Justice Mamadou Koné, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about unexplained delays in the case of Modeste Seri, in pretrial detention for over a year. Seri was detained on January 17, 2008, apparently in relation to his alleged involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government in December 2007. He has been charged with breaches of state security (atteinte à la sûreté de l'État), but no date has been set for his trial.

"Modeste Seri and all Ivorians in prolonged pretrial detention deserve to be tried without delay or freed," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Seri voluntarily went to the Ivorian Territorial State Security Service (Direction surveillance du territoire, DST) on January 17, 2008, after he learned that the government was suspicious of  his relationship with Ibrahim Coulibaly, an alleged plotter in a 2007 coup attempt. He was detained and on January 28, 2008, transferred to Abidjan's central prison (Maison d'arrêt et de correction d'Abidjan, MACA), where he remains.

An investigating judge has on a few occasions questioned Seri about his relationship to Coulibaly, most recently in May 2008. Since this time, however, neither Seri nor his lawyer has received any news about the status of the investigation. In its letter, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about both the lack of apparent progress in the investigation and about the failure to set a trial date.

For the last nine years, Côte d'Ivoire has been racked by a social, political, and military crisis that has accelerated economic decline, deepened political and ethnic divisions, resulted in the de facto partition of the country between a government-controlled south and rebel-controlled north, and led to a scale of human rights abuses previously unseen in the nation's post-independence history. As the leader of an Ivorian diaspora group based in the United States, and since returning to Côte d'Ivoire in 2006, Seri has been a harsh critic of both the government of President Laurent Gbagbo and the New Forces rebels.

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