The price of freedom

The price of freedom ABSTRACT: We are publishing a letter that Laurent Akoun, member of the Radical Party and of the Ivory Coast Workers' Party, wrote to his Radical activist friend Gaoussou Ouattara from prison. The letter was delivered to us by his wife Gisèle, and in it he describes the circumstances of his arrest, his trial, and prison life. Laurent Akoun was imprisoned on 18 February 1992. (THE PARTY new - N. 7 - May 1992) Abidjan Prison, 20 March 1992. "Dear friend, I was arrested at Francis Wodie's house on 18 February 1992, where I was having a meeting with three other leaders of the Workers' Party. We were joined by two activists who had learned of Francis Wodie's arrest. At about 5.30 p.m., two inspectors, two lieutenants and a dozen police officers, armed to the teeth, forced their way into the apartment and asked us to accompany them to the offices of the Minister for National Security where, according to them, our presence was required for an "identity check". Instead of taking us to the Minister's offices, they transported us to the "Agloun Camp", under the surveillance of the National Gendarmerie. We were asked to undress and take off our shoes, after which we were thrown into a police cell where about one hundred democrats, many of them bleeding, were heaped together on the bare earth. We were left like this for 72 hours during which we had to suffer every kind of humiliation: we were packed together like sardines, with the stench of urine in our nostrils, and the were flies everywhere. On 21 February 1992, we were taken to the Abidjan Courts with 19 other comrades and our arrest was confirmed. After being accused of "jointly committing wilful damage, arson and assault", we were given a summary trial. The verdict was pronounced on 6 March. 8 comrades were released, but 12 were condemned: Laurent Akoun, Kessié Raymond Koudou, Bruno Ophou Gnaoule, one year in prison, plus a fine of 300,000 Ivory Coast francs; Laurent Gbagbo, René Degni-Seguy, Louis Dacoury, Lucien Akret, Michel Legre, Mollé Mollé, Ahibo Coffy, Obou Ouraga (who gave himself up after the police had taken his wife hostage), Odette Likikouet, two years in prison, plus a fine of 300,000 Ivory Coast francs. Another 126 democrats were transferred from the Agban prison camp to Yopougon Prison on 24 February 1992, including 10 minors. To date, only 2 of them have been tried with an emergency procedure, and condemned: Madame Gbagbo, one year and a 300,000 franc fine, and Georges Coffy, two years and a 300,000 franc fine. The proceedings were changed for the others: they are all in prison awaiting trial. Prison conditions are tough. We were not allowed to communicate with relatives or friends for twenty days. There were no medical check-ups, even though the hygiene was deplorable (a cholera epidemic had decimated the prison inmates just two months previously). A gendarmerie commando unit was stationed within the prison walls, only three yards from our cell. In order to obtain a permit to "communicate with us", visitors had to go through practically all the offices in the Law Courts, and to wait an entire day in the hope of obtaining this authorization. If the visitors were lucky enough to obtain the necessary document, they then had to get past the prison authorities, which was impossible without bribing the "prison overlords" with bottles of wine. The visiting room was a real cour des miracles crammed full of prisoners and visitors making a terrible din. The prison was built for 1,500-2,000 prisoners, but currently houses 4,000. The witch hunt for democrats continues: last week 5 students (including one girl, and a high school student who is still a minor) were arrested and illegally held at the headquarters of the National Guard for one week before being transferred to Yopougon Prison. In spite of these difficulties, my comrades and I are in good spirits thanks to the support we have received on a national and international level. I would especially like to thank the activists and leaders of the Radical Party for the action they have undertaken to permit democrats and democracy to triumph in the Ivory Coast. Your friend, Laurent Akoun". ---------------- Ivory Coast: 150 political opponents jailed About 150 activists of the Ivory Coast opposition - including Mollò Mollò, deputy, and member of the Radical Party's Federal Council; Laurent Gbagbo, Secretary General of the Ivory Coast People's Front, and Maestro René Degny-Seguy, leader of the Ivory Coast Human Rights League - are rotting in Abidjan's Yopougon prison, together with Laurent Akoun, member of the Ivory Coast Workers' Party and of the Radical Party. Laurent Akoun, former Secretary General of the Ivory Coast Teachers' Union, knows just how high the price of freedom and democracy is. He was imprisoned and deprived of his human and civil rights under one-party rule (which lasted from 1960 to 1990). The nonviolent, transnational Radical Party is launching an appeal to all parliamentarians and citizens, urging them to undertake action to obtain the release not only of the Radical Laurent Akoun, but of all political prisoners in the Ivory Coast.