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Journalist beaten up by gold mining boss

(RSF/IFEX) - On 15 May 2003, RSF expressed shock over the beating up of a journalist by a local gold mining boss and called for the attacker to be severely punished.

On 14 May, journalist Frédéric Farine, of the television station RFO Guyane, was attacked by Jean Bena, who runs gold prospecting operations in the French overseas province, at the start of a murder trial of one of Bena's former employees, in Cayenne.

Bena insulted, slapped and punched the journalist about a dozen times, berating him for mentioning his name in an article. Two police officers on motorcycles who were present did not intervene, and plainclothes police, who appeared to be friends of Bena, then overpowered him, but did not arrest him.

"This attack is the culmination of a long series of threats against the journalist," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in a letter to the prefect (governor) of French Guiana, Ange Mancini. "Gold mining has become a risky business to report on for those who want to expose practices in the industry, which include torture. This is a scandalous and unacceptable incident on French soil. The attacker must be severely punished."

Ménard asked the prefect to keep him informed of progress in the investigation that was opened after Farine filed a formal complaint for "deliberate physical assault and death threats." Ménard also asked Mancini to explain why the police did not arrest Bena, and urged him to meet with the journalist in order to work out how he might be protected in the future. Following the attack, police told Farine that Bena was still in the general vicinity, and the journalist was not able to leave until his editor came to pick him up from the police station.

Farine, along with Laurent Marot, the local correspondent for the French daily "Le Monde", has often reported on the violent world of gold mining in French Guiana.

Both journalists' problems are featured in RSF's 2003 annual report. The following is an excerpt from the report:

"Frédéric Farine, a correspondent for the French daily La Croix and Radio France Internationale (RFI) investigating conditions in the alluvial gold mining industry, was accused of "paedophilia" and "corrupting youth" by two members of the Guianese Federation of Mining Organisations (FEDOMG) at a press conference in Cayenne on 1 July 2002. In an article three days earlier headed "Forced labour in the Maroni region," he had quoted Brazilian immigrant miners accusing one of the gold bosses, Jean Bena, of enslaving them after confiscating their passports. On 18 June, he had reported for Radio Caraibes International (RCI), RFI and on the trial of four gold-washers from the town of Maripasoula who were jailed for five years for torturing a Brazilian gold-washer. In July 2001, he had written a report with Laurent Marot, of the French daily Le Monde, exposing the existence of virtual militias run by the gold bosses, who they said had installed a "reign of terror" in the region. The two reporters were subsequently threatened several times and an associate of Bena warned Marot that they were "first on the list." Marot said that in February 2002, after a programme he had done on gold-washing was broadcast by Radio Guyane, another gold boss, Joseph "Popo" Machine, had called and told him he should turn his attention to other matters. "We're sick of you. Be very careful," he warned. A month later he called to say, "We're fed up with the reports by you and Farine. We're going to get you!"

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