Tahiti editor found guilty of defaming prosecutor in story about fellow journalist's disappearance
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||24 June 2009|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Tahiti editor found guilty of defaming prosecutor in story about fellow journalist's disappearance, 24 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a44919020.html [accessed 6 May 2015]|
Reporters Without Borders deplores yesterday's decision by a Paris court finding Tahiti-Pacifique editor Alex du Prel guilty of defaming public prosecutor Jean Bianconi in an article criticising the judicial probe into the 1997 disappearance of Jean-Pascal "JPK" Couraud, a leading investigative journalist based in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.
The court fined Du Prel 1,000 euros and ordered him to pay the prosecutor another 1,000 euros in damages. The decision was the result of a libel suit brought by Du Prel and two other Papeete-based judicial officials, his deputy Christophe Perruaux and investigating judge Philippe Stelmach.
"The Paris court's decision is regrettable, as is the fact that the judicial authorities are much quicker to attack a journalist who criticises them than they are to deal with criminal cases such as Couraud's death," Reporters Without Borders said.
"The way this complaint was filed is also surprising," the press freedom organisation added. "We have a right to wonder why these three judicial officials brought their case in Paris rather than Papeete. Furthermore, Du Prel was not notified of the complaint until October 2007, eight months after it was filed. That in itself raises many questions. It is well known that the Papeete judicial authorities have failed to do everything possible to establish the circumstances of Couraud's disappearance."
The complaint was brought on March 2007 over an article published in January. An initial hearing was held in Paris on 19 May of this year. Each of the three judicial officials had requested 5,000 euros in damages.
Couraud's body was never found after he disappeared on 15 December 1997. Tahiti's judicial authorities treated his disappearance as a suicide and closed the case in October 2002, despite the objections of Couraud's family and a Couraud support committee.
The case was reopened in October 2004 after Vetea Guilloux, a member of the Polynesia Intervention Group (GIP), a now-disbanded police force answering to former Polynesian President Gaston Flosse, said he witnessed Couraud's murder by two other GIP members.
Guilloux later retracted this claim but he was convicted of making a slanderous accusation. The conviction was eventually overturned on the grounds that the jail sentence passed on Guilloux was twice as long as the maximum stipulated by the law. Couraud's family filed a complaint in December 2004 accusing persons unknown of perpetrating, and abetting in, his murder.
Couraud was the editor of the daily Les Nouvelles de Tahiti. At the time of his death, he had been investigating suspicious bank transfers allegedly involving Flosse.