After several months, Chad lifts a censorship blanket

New York, May 30, 2007–Blanket censorship imposed last November on private newspapers and radio stations was lifted this week after a six-month state of emergency, imposed in response to deadly unrest in eastern Chad, expired on Saturday, according to officials and local journalists.

Three of the leading private newspapers in the capital N’Djamena, including weeklies Notre Temps, Le Temps and L’Observateur, have appeared this week without prior review by government censors, local journalists told CPJ. In the remote southern town of Moissala, private Radio Brakos resumed broadcasting its daily news program on Tuesday after a hiatus of more than five months, Director Tchanguis Vatankah told CPJ. The station had voluntarily suspended news programs to protest pre-broadcast restrictions on coverage of the conflict in eastern Chad, he said.

“None of the censorship measures remain since parliament did not exercise its constitutional power of extending the state of emergency,” Abdramane Djasnabaille, secretary of state of the interior for provincial administration, told CPJ today.

“We are glad to see the end of blanket censorship, which has cast a deep chill on the country’s vibrant press,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “With parliamentary elections expected later this year, the Chadian authorities must resist the temptation to re-impose restrictions on the press which has a vital role to play in bolstering the country’s democracy.”

Initially adopted for a 12-day period and later extended to six months, the censorship regulations required newspapers to submit their content prior to publication, and subjected radio stations to broadcast restrictions in connection with coverage of the conflicts spilling from neighboring Darfur and the Central African Republic.

Under the censorship restrictions, the local private press was forbidden access to conflict zones, local journalists told CPJ. Forbidden topics included interviews of opposition figures, criticism of the government, discussions on the use of child soldiers, and commentary on the censorship rules themselves. Foreign media outlets with correspondents in Chad, including Radio France Internationale, Agence France-Presse, and the BBC, were not affected although they were careful in their reporting, according to local sources.

No firm date has been set for parliamentary elections, although they are expected later this year.