Radio director held incommunicado on eve of elections

New York, May 1, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed at the arrest on Friday of Tchanguis Vatankah, founder of an independent radio station and president of the Chadian Union of Private Radios. Police took Vatankah from his home in the capital, N’Djamena, but did not show any arrest warrant, according to Evariste Toldé, president of the Union of Chadian Journalists. Local press freedom and human rights activists have not been able to establish his whereabouts.

Authorities have not offered any explanation for the arrest, according to Toldé and Zara Yacoub, former president of the Chadian Union of Private Radios. They said the arrest could be related to a radio union press release issued last week, which called for the postponement of the first round of presidential elections, scheduled for Wednesday. Details of the press release were not immediately available, but private radio stations have complained that the government has impeded coverage of the campaign.

Vatankah told Toldé that on the eve of his arrest he was visited by police officers demanding a copy of the press release. Phone calls by CPJ to government officials in Chad were not answered today.

“We are very worried about our colleague Tchanguis Vatankah, who has been persecuted by Chadian authorities in the past,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “CPJ calls on the government to release him immediately and make sure that journalists can express their opinions and report the news freely, especially during this election period.”

Vatankah, a native of Iran who has lived in Chad for several decades, is founder of Radio Brakos, a station in the remote southern town of Moissala that is known for its critical coverage of the government. He is married to a Chadian woman but does not have Chadian citizenship. Last year, the government held him in detention for more than two months and threatened to expel him from the country. No action has been taken on expulsion.

For more information, see CPJ’s November 30, 2005, news alert: