Chad: Journalists under attack by government

Amnesty International today revealed that journalists in Chad are suffering from a major crackdown as the government continues fighting armed opposition forces in the east of the country.

Journalists reporting on the conflict are increasingly accused of being sympathetic to armed opposition movements and “enemies of the state” when they express criticism of the Chadian authorities.

Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme said:
“The Chadian government is exercising tight control over freedom of speech and of the press – and this grip has worryingly been getting even tighter in recent weeks.

“Chadian journalists are being subjected to intimidation, harassment and arrest without warrant. This is especially true when the government is being criticised – particularly over their conduct in the armed conflict taking place in eastern Chad.”

Since early 2000, Chadian opposition armed forces have been waging a low-intensity war against the government.

The conflict has been exacerbated by the spillover of thousands of refugees from Sudan since 2003 and the politically contentious 2005 constitutional changes that enabled President Idriss Deby to be re-elected for a third term in 2006.

On 17 January, Chadian police arrested without warrant Keletété Dono, leader of the Liberal party of Chad (parti Libéral du Tchad). Last week, Kaletété Dono raised concerns about President Deby’s policies regarding the conflict in eastern Chad during an interview with the radio station FM Liberté. He has now been provisionally released.

The previous day, 16 January, about 10 police officers stormed into the offices of FM Liberté, demanding to speak to the station’s director, Djekourninga Kaoutar Lazare, who was not there. The police shut down the station and illegally arrested the station’s program coordinator, Maji-Maji Oudjitan. The director was illegally arrested. Over the last week, FM Liberté had broadcast several programmes regarding the armed conflict in eastern Chad and corruption within the police.

On 7 January, a journalist from FM Liberté was intimidated and threatened by an armed security forces agent on this way home from work. The agent allegedly told him to stop reporting on the harassment of Mikael Didama, a journalist strongly critical of government actions in the east. Armed men broke into the home of Mikael Didama, director of Le temps newspaper on 31 October 2007. They fired a volley of shots into his car before leaving.

Journalist Nadjikimo Benoudjita, editor of the weekly newspaper Notre temps, was arrested on 14 December at around 6am in his home by a group of more than a dozen police officers. He was given no reason for his detention and there was no warrant. On 17 December he was charged with inciting tribal hatred over an article published in the newspaper that was critical of President Deby’s policies in eastern Chad. He was freed but will be summoned to reappear in court later this month.

In mid-December Chadian Minister of Interior Ahmat Mahamat Bachir verbally attacked independent journalists and human rights organisations, threatening to halt their activities if they continued to criticise the government’s policies and actions in eastern Chad. The comments came at a press conference organised following fierce fighting between the army and the armed opposition in eastern Chad.

Tawanda Hondora continued:
“It is clear that the Chadian government is feeling increasingly threatened by independent reporting of its conduct in the conflict with the armed opposition, particularly in eastern Chad – and is taking its anxiety out on the country’s media.

“We urge the government to cease all harassment of journalists and immediately investigate any attacks against the media that have taken place with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

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