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Article Ivory Coast: Parliament Adopts Controversial Bill Amending Penal Code

On June 6, 2024, Côte d’Ivoire’s National Assembly adopted a bill amending the penal code to combat terrorism and money laundering. On June 12, the Ivorian Senate also adopted the proposed bill. The president of the republic is expected sign the promulgation of the law.  

While the bill includes provisions that enjoy wide support across the political spectrum, opposition parties have charged that one provision threatens freedom of expression, namely an amendment to article 185 of the Penal Code to punish with imprisonment any person who “appeals to the public with the aim of disapproving of the authority and provoking solidarity with one or more convicts.”

Formerly, article 175 of the 1981 penal code stated it was illegal to provoke solidarity with any person convicted of advocating crimes such as murder, pillage, burning or destroying buildings, theft, or crimes against human rights. The 2024 amendment expands this to include any crime.

The amendment, backed by the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), the majority party, has been denounced by the opposition, notably the Parti Democratique de Cote d’Ivoire, Rassemblement Democratique Africain (PDCI), and the Parti des Peuples Africains-Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI).

PDCI deputy Me Blessy Chrysostome strongly criticized the bill, calling it a threat to freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate. He added that even as a member of parliament, expressing a critical opinion on any person’s conviction for any crime could make him liable under article 185, infringing freedom of opinion and political expression.

Abdulaye Ben Meité, a lawyer and RHDP executive, in support of the law gave an example affirming the majority’s intent:  

Laurent Gbagbo has been sentenced by the Ivorian justice system to a prison term. If today the PPA-CI or individuals launch an appeal to the public with the effect of upsetting the authority, in solidarity with Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, [their actions would] fall under article 185 of the new Ivorian [penal] code. (Translation by author.)

Senator Kouadio Kpli Delphin of the PDCI stated that the revised article 185 “infringes on everyone’s individual freedom.” The PDCI supported an amendment proposed by the PPA-CI to explicitly exclude political, trade union and religious opinions from article 185, but the amendment failed.

Another opposition party, the Front National Démocratique et Réformiste (FNDR), issued a statement calling on citizens to mobilize against the amendment to article 185, arguing it contradicts Côte d’Ivoire’s international human rights commitments, particularly those relating to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

In contrast, Meite, the RHDP executive quoted above, stated that article 185 “has existed since 1981” and merely “has been simplified, without changing its substance.” The government’s Minister of Communications, Amadou Coulibali, said regarding the amendment, “[i]n order to bring our penal system into line with our society, where new crimes have emerged, we felt it was important to broaden the notion of apology to include all the crimes we have witnessed since the adoption of the penal code in 1981.” 

Louis Gilbert, Law Library of Congress
June 21, 2024

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