New York, November 30, 2005—Chadian authorities freed community radio director Tchanguis Vatankah on Tuesday after improperly holding the journalist in detention for more than two months. Vatankah, whose station is known for critical reporting and commentary, still faces a government expulsion order and has been ordered not to speak to the press, according to Evariste Toldé, head of the Union of Chadian Journalists.
Local journalists and press freedom activists believe that Vatankah was arrested because of his journalistic work. A native of Iran who had been living in Chad for several decades, Vatankah is the founder and director of Radio Brakos, a station in the remote southern town of Moissala. Vatankah is married to a Chadian woman, but he does not have Chadian citizenship.
The government has accused Vatankah of being a security threat, but it has not provided any details, according to local journalists. They said Radio Brakos has aired critical reports about customs agents, police and military officers, and local authorities in Moissala.
“We welcome Tchanguis Vatankah’s release, but Chadian authorities should not be expelling him from the country simply because they don’t like his reporting,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Our colleague should be allowed to remain in Chad and return to his work at Radio Brakos.”
Chad’s Supreme Court ruled on November 9 that Vatankah’s detention was illegal, according to Toldé and Zara Yacoub, a member and former president of the Chadian Union of Private Radios. The court ruled in an appeal brought by a local human rights organization. Five days later, Security and Immigration Minister Routouang Yoma Golom ordered him expelled from the country, Toldé and Yacoub said.
For now, Vatankah has been ordered not to leave the capital, N’Djamena. Chadian authorities have asked the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to resettle Vatankah, but local media organizations oppose the expulsion.
CPJ has documented a pattern of harassment against Vatankah and Radio Brakos. 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.” The HCC lifted the ban in August but demanded that Vatankah no longer serve as station director, CPJ sources said.
Vatankah was arrested on September 25 in southern Chad. He was first detained by the Chadian intelligence agency and then transferred to police headquarters in the capital, N’Djamena, according to local journalists.