New York, February 10, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deplores last week’s decision sentencing of two journalists to prison.
On Thursday, February 6, a court in the capital, N’Djamena, convicted Nadjikimo Bénoudjita, the publisher of the private weekly Notre Temps, and Mbainaye Bétoubam, an editor at the paper, of criminal defamation and sentenced each to six months in prison.
The court also ordered each journalist to pay US$3,300 in damages and banned the men from practicing journalism in Chad. Notre Temps, one of the country’s leading independent publications, was also ordered closed for three months.
Bétoubam, who could not appear in court last Thursday because of an illness, was detained at his home by police upon the verdict’s announcement and driven in handcuffs to the capital’s Central Prison.
The case against Bénoudjita and Bétoubam stemmed from a complaint filed against Notre Temps by President Idriss Deby’s mother-in-law, Hadjé Billy Douga. In late 2002, Douga, who is also director of social affairs at the Ministry of Social Action and Women’s Affairs, accused Notre Temps of damaging her reputation by publishing an article alleging that she had ordered the torture of three men accused of stealing jewelry from her N’Djamena residence.
Bénoudjita and Bétoubam stand by the report’s accuracy, maintaining that the article was based on allegations contained in N’Djamena Appeals Court documents.
“Our colleagues Nadjikimo Bénoudjita and Mbainaye Bétoubam did nothing more than report on a matter of public importance,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “They should not be imprisoned for carrying out their journalistic duties. We urge Chadian authorities to do everything within their power to see that these men are released immediately and without condition.”