New York, September 1, 2005—Journalist Michaël Didama, speaking from his prison cell in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, today denounced his detention as illegal and called on local and international journalists to keep up pressure for the release of all four reporters jailed by the government since July.
“This is a crackdown on the press. There is nothing legal about our arrests,” Didama told
the Committee to Protect Journalists in a telephone interview. Didama has been in the capital’s overcrowded Central Prison since August 8. He was sentenced to six months in jail after his newspaper in May, 2005, covered rebel groups and an alleged massacre of civilians in eastern Chad.
Also in the Central Prison are journalists Garondé Djarma, Ngaradoumbé Samory, and Sy Koumbo Singa Gali. They were sentenced to terms ranging from three months to three years for offenses such as defaming the president and “inciting hatred.”
Didama said pressure from local and international journalists and had led the authorities to improve conditions for all four journalists.
Unlike in June when he was first detained, Didama can now receive visitors. He has also been allowed a cell phone.
“When we were arrested the first time, we were not allowed visitors, including our lawyers, and our movements were monitored. Pressure from our colleagues paid off though, because this time when we were arrested we were allowed visits from our family, lawyers, and others.”
All four journalists have launched appeals against their convictions.
“With all this pressure we hope that the appeals court will examine our cases and free us immediately, ” he said.
Didama described prison conditions as “difficult.”
“It’s unclean and humid, and even the food is really indescribable,” he said. “The conditions are bad… Our relatives, family and colleagues bring us food. It’s disastrous.” Evariste Toldé, head of the Union of Chadian Journalists who has visited the journalists, told CPJ that the jail was badly overcrowded.
Didama, Djarma, and Samory are being held in the same wing and are in contact with one another, Didama said. Sy is in the prison’s women’s section.
“They are all keeping their spirits up,” said Didama.
Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ said “We salute these courageous journalists, and remain deeply troubled by their imprisonment. We call on the Chadian authorities to free all four immediately, and to ensure that journalists in Chad can work without fear of government reprisal.”