Chadian police take radio station off the air

New York, January 17, 2008—Police in the Chadian capital, N’djamena, forced a radio station launched by local human rights activists off the air on Wednesday and detained its director on allegations of defamation over the broadcast of a press release by a consumer advocacy group, according to local journalists and news reports.

The studios of FM Liberté remained sealed under police guard today and Station Director Djekourninga Kaoutar Lazare was expected to spend a second consecutive night in custody, according to local journalists.

A dozen plainclothes police agents entered the studios of FM Liberté without a warrant shortly before 6 p.m. on Wednesday as journalists prepared the 7 p.m. evening news broadcast, Program Director Eleyakim Dokpane Vanambyl told CPJ. Police sealed the offices after journalists refused to hand over recordings of all the programs broadcast since Monday, he said. Police detained Program Coordinator Madji Madji Odjitan, holding him for an hour before arresting Djekourninga.

Speaking to CPJ by telephone today from the police station where he was being held, Djekourninga said he was officially detained in connection with FM Liberté’s broadcast on Monday of a petition by the Chadian Association for the Defense of the Rights of Consumers to Interior and Security Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bâchir. The petition, authored by the group’s secretary-general, Daouda Elhajj Adam, protested administrative fees to obtain government identification documents, according to CPJ research. Police detained Adam this morning, although no charges were immediately disclosed, according to local journalists.

The petition was broadcast by several other local radio stations and was published in newspapers, according to Mahamat Abdoulaye Hassan, a sub-editor of private Dja FM. Local journalists said the FM Liberté closure might also stem from recent station interviews critical of the government. On Monday, FM Liberté interviewed a wounded soldier alleging that veterans from President Idriss Deby Itno’s Zaghawa ethnic group received better medical care than other veterans, they said. The station had also interviewed opposition supporters and members, including Kelepete Dono, on Saturday. Police picked up Dono today, according to local sources. No charges were immediately disclosed.

Communications Minister Moussa Doumgor did not immediately return CPJ’s calls for comment.

“We are deeply troubled by the government’s arbitrary closure of FM Liberté and the detention of its journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to release Djekourninga Kaoutar Lazare immediately and allow FM Liberté to return to the air.”

FM Liberté was launched in 2000 by a coalition of local human rights organizations as a means of promoting social justice and rule of law.

Tensions between the private media and the government rose in recent weeks after Minister Bâchir threatened to “break the pen” of “anyone who writes nonsense,” according to CPJ research. The comments were in response to a critical editorial in the private weekly Notre Temps. Chadian officials have called for national unity in response to a rebellion and outbreaks of inter-communal fighting in Chad’s restive east and increasing tensions with neighboring Sudan.