CPJ welcomes release of prominent radio journalist

New York, May 19, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the release today of radio journalist Tchanguis Vatankah after three weeks of arbitrary detention. Vatankah, who went on hunger strike in early May, told CPJ by telephone from the capital, N’Djamena, that he was “very happy” to be back home with his wife, and that he was recuperating.

Vatankah is an Iranian who has lived in Chad for decades but does not have Chadian citizenship. He said authorities lifted an expulsion threat against him after he pledged to keep out of politics, and to step down as head of the Chadian Union of Private Radios. He was arrested April 28 after he signed a Union press release calling for the postponement of May 3 presidential elections to allow more room for political dialogue. Authorities claimed that he had violated his obligations as a refugee by meddling in Chadian politics. Incumbent President Idriss Déby was declared the winner of the presidential polls, which were boycotted by his main opponents.

“We are relieved that Tchanguis Vatankah is free,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We hope that his release signals an acknowledgement by President Idriss Déby’s government that journalists should not be jailed for expressing an opinion.”

Vatankah is the founder of Radio Brakos, a station in the remote southern town of Moissala, which is known for its critical coverage. Last year, the government detained him for more than two months and threatened to expel him. For more information see CPJ’s November 30 alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Chad30nov05na.html

Vatankah launched a hunger strike in early May demanding that he be allowed to see his lawyer. On May 14, private radio stations in Chad went off the air for a day to call for Vatankah’s immediate and unconditional release. He was held incommunicado until May 16, when he was moved from the national intelligence agency to police detention and finally allowed to receive visitors. He ended his hunger strike the same day.

However, journalists who visited him told CPJ that he had lost a lot of weight and was having trouble walking because of a fall. Vatankah told CPJ today that he would need several weeks to recuperate. He said Chad’s minister for human rights had told a press conference today that he could travel freely and resume his activities as editor of Radio Brakos in Moissala.