Three journalists jailed on criminal charges

New York, June 22, 2005—Chadian authorities have jailed three journalists since yesterday in the capital, N’Djamena, on criminal charges stemming from critical reporting, sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Today, authorities arrested and jailed Michaël Didama, publication director of the private weekly Le Temps. According to local sources, Didama was charged with defamation and incitement to hatred, violence, and rebellion. The charges stemmed from two reports published in May that were based on an investigation carried out in Sudan and eastern Chad by a Le Temps reporter, local sources said.

The first article reported a resurgence of anti-government rebel movements in eastern Chad. The second described an alleged massacre of civilians in eastern Chad that arose from conflicts between local populations, aggravated by the influx of refugees from the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan, according to sources interviewed by CPJ. The article alleged that government security forces had participated in the massacre, and the newspaper printed a front-page photo of some of the victims.

CPJ sources said the High Council of Communication (HCC), a government media regulatory body, studied the articles in response to complaints from members of the government that they had incited violence, but decided in early June that the newspaper was not guilty of incitement.

Yesterday, security forces arrested Ngaradoumbé Samory, editor of the private weekly L’Observateur, and Garondé Djarma, a freelance writer who contributes frequently to local newspapers. According to local sources, both were charged with defamation and incitement to violence.

The charge against Djarma stems from a recent opinion piece he wrote for L’Observateur in which he criticized President Idriss Déby and a controversial constitutional amendment allowing Déby to stay in office for a third term. The government announced yesterday that voters approved the measure at a June 6 referendum, over the protests of opposition and civil society groups.

It is unclear whether the charges against Samory stemmed from that article, or from a previous piece that landed the journalist in prison for three days in early June. That arrest stemmed from L’Observateur‘s publication of an open letter to Déby, written under a pseudonym, on behalf of members of detained members of a minority ethnic group known as the Kreda, who live in northwestern Chad. The government had accused the Kreda of mounting a rebellion.

Local journalists interviewed by CPJ said the arrests reflect a crackdown on the media in the wake of the referendum.

“We’re alarmed by the arrest of these three journalists,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Authorities in Chad should release Michaël Didama, Ngaradoumbé Samory, and Garondé Djarma immediately, and they should ensure that journalists in Chad can report and comment on the news without fear of government reprisal.”