CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Each year, the Frasure Singleton Legislative Intern Program invites 40 state college students to spend a week at the West Virginia Capitol. Most of the participants are young political science majors who come to get a first-hand look at politics.
Intern Siriki Diabate, who served under House Clerk Greg Gray last week, is a little different.
Diabate, 39, is older than other participants. He also has plenty of experience with politics. It almost killed him once.
"He very much wants to be an activist," Gray said.
The Ivory Coast is a former French colony in West Africa. It gained its independence in 1960 and Felix Houphouet-Boigny, hailed as the father of Ivorian independence, was elected president.
Houphouet-Boigny would be continually re-elected for the next 33 years, serving as president until his death on Dec. 7, 1993.
Diabate said that's when things changed for the Ivory Coast. While the country had been relatively stable in its first three decades, the president's death threw it into political turmoil.
Henri Konan Bedie, president of the country's national assembly, installed himself as president. He remained in office until 1999, when he was unseated by a military coup.
In 2000, Ivorians elected Laurent Gbagbo as their new president. Diabate said Gbagbo, a leader from the central region of Ivory Coast, quickly made life difficult for northerners, who had long been discriminated against.
Although Diabate is a teacher by training - he was teaching French and English at a Port-Bouet secondary school when Gbagbo came to power - his increasing frustration with the country's government led him to join a local twice-weekly newspaper.
He kept his teaching job to make ends meet, but started to write investigative pieces in the newspaper about problems caused by Gbagbo's administration.
He wrote about the plight of cacao farmers. Cacao, the main ingredient of chocolate, was the Ivory Coast's first major export. Under Houphouet-Boigny, all the farmers were members of a large union, allowing them to fairly negotiate prices.
Gbagbo busted that union into several smaller groups, crushing their bargaining power.
"The farmer was no longer deciding the price," Diabate said. "At that period, the farmer was really suffering."
He also wrote stories about the privatization of a local five-star hotel, previously owned by the Ivory Coast government. A private company moved in, bought out the hotel, and put many of its former employees out of work.
Diabate's most controversial stories focused on the prejudice against, and eventual disenfranchisement of the Malinke people, who reside in the Ivory Coast's northern region.
The Ivory Coast government had long viewed the Malinke like Diabate as outsiders, but problems only increased after Gbagbo took power.
The new president and much of his ruling party hail from the country's central region. They began harassing northern Ivorians, even taking their government-issued identification cards.
Ivory Coast residents are not allowed to vote in elections without their national ID. By taking the cards away, Gbagbo was in essence revoking the Malinke's citizenship, Diabate said.
Although his previous stories had riled Gbagbo faithfuls, Diabate's stories about discrimination against the Malinke eventually sent the young journalist into hiding.
It began with threatening calls to the newspaper.
"The day we catch you, we're going to kill you," he remembers one caller saying. "I said, 'Can you prove it's not true?' "
As the threats increased, Diabate and the rest of the newspaper staff went on the run. They continued printing, however, meeting in secret to write and lay out the paper before emailing it to the printer.
He remained on the run for more than two years, moving from town to town, sleeping over with friends where he could. The government eventually caught up to him, however, in January 2005.
There are police checkpoints all over the Ivory Coast. Diabate said it's just part of the country's national security, a way for police to know who is going where. But he said members of Gbagbo's "secret militia," made up of university students faithful to the leader, had infiltrated the county's police force.
It was common in those days for northern Ivorians to be targeted at checkpoints, having their IDs confiscated and being hassled by corrupt police.
"That's how, back then, so many people disappeared and we don't know what happened to them," Diabate said.
That's how the government caught up with Diabate. He was traveling with friends, came upon a checkpoint, and was removed from the car. Police took his ID and checked his identity against a government blacklist.
Officers instructed his fellow travelers to drive on, leaving Diabate behind. He originally thought he was going to jail but that didn't bother him. He knew that in jail, he could get a lawyer and challenge any charges in court.
"I wasn't afraid to go to jail. It was like, 'At least I'm not dead,' " he said.
But officers placed Diabate in an unmarked car. After an hour, a four-by-four sport utility vehicle appeared.
"That's when I suspected I was in trouble."
The men in the SUV were not wearing uniforms. Diabate began peppering them with questions, asking what he had done to merit arrest, asking who his captors were and if they were taking him to the police station.
One of the men slapped him in the side of the head.
They drove to a remote area in the African bush. The men pulled Diabate from the car, stripped him down to his underwear and began to beat him.
He soon passed out.
Diabate said he's not sure why his captors stopped their attack. He thinks maybe they were just inexperienced college students, members of Gbagbo's secret militia, and had never killed anyone before.