In Chad, journalist convicted of defamation

New York, March 16, 2007— A court in the capital N’Djamena sentenced on Tuesday a journalist to a six-month suspended prison term and damages on criminal defamation charges over a May 2006 story alleging corruption by a Catholic priest, according to press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) and news reports.

Director Adji Moussa of the satirical bi-monthly Le Mirroir was sentenced to a six-month suspended prison term, a fine of 25,000 CFA francs (US$50) and 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,000) in damages, defense lawyer Sobdibé Zoua told CPJ. Moussa is free pending an appeal, he said.

The ruling stemmed from a complaint by Father Michel Guimbaud over a May 15, 2006 article alleging Guimbaud, the head of a disability center in the southern town of Moundou, had embezzled 17 millions CFA francs (US$34,000) in charity donations, Moussa told CPJ. Guimbaud denied the allegations, demanding the paper reveal its sources, he said. His management of the center later came under fire from patrons of the center following publication of the article, local sources told CPJ.

“We urge the appeals court to overturn the conviction and prison sentence of Adji Moussa,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on authorities to decriminalize defamation to allow plaintiffs to seek only civil remedies.”

The ruling came in the midst of blanket censorship restrictions on the private press decreed by the government since last November as part of a six-month state of emergency period in response to unrest in Eastern Chad.