Ebodé (La Voix du Tchad)
Ebodé (La Voix du Tchad)

Chad expels Cameroonian journalist after Nobel story

New York, October 16, 2009—Chadian authorities summarily expelled a Cameroonian-born journalist from the country on Wednesday, a day after he wrote an op-ed in response to a government official’s suggestion that the Nobel Peace Prize should have been awarded to Chad President Idriss Deby. 

Chadian security service agents took Innocent Ebodé, who arrived in N’djamena in June to become editor-in-chief of the fledgling weekly La Voix du Tchad, to the border town of Kousseri, where he was deported permanently to his homeland of Cameroon, according to defense lawyer Jean-Bernard Padaré. Security services ordered the immediate deportation after Ebodé failed to produce a residency permit, he told CPJ.

While Cameroonian citizens are required to have residency permits in Chad, summary deportations are rare and defendants are usually either fined or allowed to redress the situation, according to Chadian legal expert Sobdibé Zoua.

Ebodé, who left his wife and two children behind in N’djamena, was deported a day after writing a critical column analyzing the merit of Deby and other African leaders as Nobel Prize contenders. Ebode likened a race between 2009 Nobel Prize winner Barack Obama and Deby as a sprint between Olympic world-record-holder Usain Bolt and a one-legged runner. The story countered Environment Minister Ali Souleymane Dabye’s suggestion during a recent press conference that Deby deserved the prize for his environmental work, according to local journalists.

Shortly after this week’s edition of La Voix du Tchad went on sale, Ebodé was summoned by the state-run national media regulatory agency, the High Council on Communication, and asked to present administrative documentation for the newspaper according to defense lawyer Padaré.

“It can’t be a coincidence that a day after the publication of an op-ed critical of the president, Innocent Ebodé should be found to be in violation of immigration violations,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “Chadian journalists already work under the repressive blanket of a presidential decree criminalizing critical coverage of sensitive topics, and the deportation of Innocent Ebodé highlights the backsliding of press freedom in Chad.”

Ebodé is now in Cameroon, according to Padaré. He is the second foreign-born journalist to be expelled from Chad in the last year after French journalist Sonia Rolley in 2008, according to CPJ research.