Two journalists imprisoned for articles critical of the president

New York, July 18, 2005—One journalist was sentenced to three years in prison and another to three months today for commentaries in the private weekly L’Observateur that criticized President Idriss Déby, according to local sources. The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the court’s decision and calls on authorities to release the two immediately.

The paper’s editor, Ngaradoumbé Samory, and a freelance contributor, Garondé Djarma, were jailed in the capital, N’Djamena, immediately after the sentencing, local sources said.

Samory was sentenced to three months in jail and fined 100,000 CFA francs (about US$176), while Djarma was sentenced to three years in jail and fined a million CFA francs (about US$1,764). The two were each charged with defaming the president and inciting hatred, although the charges stem from unrelated commentaries.

Samory was charged in connection with L’Observateur‘s publication of an open letter to President Idriss Déby, local sources said. The letter was written under a pseudonym on behalf of members of a minority ethnic group known as the Kreda whom the government had detained and accused of mounting a rebellion. The letter criticized the government’s treatment of the Kreda. Samory was asked to reveal the author’s identity, but he refused to do so, local sources told CPJ.

Djarma was charged in connection with a June 15 commentary in L’Observateur in which he criticized Déby and a controversial constitutional amendment allowing the president to stay in office for a third term, local sources said. The government announced on June 22 that voters approved the measure at a June 6 referendum, over the protests of opposition and civil society groups.

“We’re appalled by the decision to imprison two journalists who were doing their jobs by promoting debate on matters of public interest,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Garondé Djarma and Ngaradoumbé Samory should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

A separate trial continues for a third journalist, Michaël Didama, who was arrested on June 22 and charged with defamation and incitement to violence, hatred and rebellion. Didama, who is publication director of the private weekly Le Temps, was granted a provisional release from prison on July 11, and his next hearing is scheduled for early August, according to local sources. The charges against Didama stem from reports published in his newspaper in May about alleged anti-government rebel movements in eastern Chad, and an alleged massacre of civilians in the same region. For more information on Didama, see CPJ’s July 7 letter to President Déby.