Three journalists freed; another ordered expelled

New York, September 26, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of three jailed journalists today in Chad. Garondé Djarma, Michaël Didama, and Sy Koumbo Singa Gali had been sentenced in July and August to prison terms ranging from six months to three years on charges related to their work.

An appeals court in the capital, N’Djamena, today overturned the convictions of Djarma and Sy, based on procedural irregularities, local sources said. The court upheld Didama’s conviction on charges of “inciting hatred” and “defaming the president,” but sentenced him to the month and a half of prison time he had already served. Didama told CPJ he would seek a further appeal of the conviction.

The court also overturned the conviction of Ngaradoumbé Samory, a fourth journalist targeted in this summer’s crackdown on the media, again citing procedural irregularities. Samory was sentenced to three months in jail on July 18, but was granted a provisional release on September 8 pending a decision in his appeal.

“I feel a mixture of relief and anger … since the appeals court verdict has shown that these were arbitrary detentions,” the head of the Union of Chadian Journalists, Evariste Toldé, told CPJ. Toldé and other media representatives spearheaded several protests against the imprisonments, leading a one-week news blackout in the capital in August.

“CPJ welcomes the release of our colleagues, but clearly much work remains to be done to protect the rights of journalists in Chad,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Ngaradoumbé Samory, Garondé Djarma, Michaël Didama, and Sy Koumbo Singa Gali should not have been jailed in the first place.”

To read more about these cases, see the following CPJ alerts:
August 15
August 8
July 18

Radio director threatened with expulsion

In an unrelated case, authorities arrested community radio station director Tchanguis Vatankah in southern Chad on Sunday, and planned to expel him from the country, according to local sources. Vatankah is founder and director of Radio Brakos, a station in the remote southern town of Moissala that is known for its critical reporting.

CPJ has documented a pattern of harassment against Vatankah, a native of Iran who has been living in Chad for several decades. Local journalists believe that his arrest is linked to his work for Radio Brakos. According to local sources, the arrest was ordered by Security and Immigration Minister Routouang Yoma Golom. While Vatankah is married to a Chadian woman, he does not have Chadian citizenship and his legal status is unclear, local sources told CPJ.

In May, Chad’s High Council of Communication (HCC), an official media regulatory body, suspended Radio Brakos, citing “recurring conflicts between Radio Brakos and administrative and military authorities.” In August, the HCC lifted the ban, but demanded that Vatankah no longer serve as the station’s director, CPJ sources said.

In response, media organizations in N’Djamena sent a delegation to Moissala last week to negotiate a compromise between local authorities and the station’s management that would have allowed Vatankah to remain involved in the station’s activities. Vatankah was arrested outside Moissala the day after this delegation returned to the capital, according to Evariste Toldé, who joined the delegation as a representative of the journalists’ union.

In 2004, Vatankah was detained and badly beaten on the orders of a local government official after the journalist interviewed an opposition leader on the air; Vatankah still suffers from medical problems related to the assault. Vatankah has also received threats from local military officials and traditional leaders, according to local sources.

“CPJ is deeply troubled by the arrest of Tchanguis Vatankah, and the government’s threat to expel him from Chad,” CPJ’s Cooper said. “This is an outrageous way to respond to a journalist who was just doing his job.”