Vancouver, Canada, January 6, 2020 — Authorities in Chad should release journalist Ali Hamata Achène, and stop pursuing criminal defamation and retaliatory cases against reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police arrested Achène, a reporter with the privately owned Dja FM radio station, in Mongo, the capital of Chad’s south-central Guéra region, on December 26, 2019, according to a press release posted on Facebook by his employer and a report by French broadcaster Radio France Internationale.
Achène arrived at the local gendarmerie office in Mongo in response to a summons from the judicial police; when he arrived, police arrested him for alleged defamation and contempt of court, according to that press release.
When they arrested him, authorities showed Achène a copy of a Facebook post he published on his personal account, according to the press release and a Dja FM manager who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. A police officer said that authorities disapproved of what Achène broadcast on Dja FM, but did not have proof of his statements until they saw his Facebook post, the manager said.
CPJ reviewed a copy of that post, which alleged corruption in the Mongo legal system. Achène occasionally posted commentary on local politics on his Facebook page, which CPJ reviewed.
Achène has not seen a judge since he was detained, and charges have not been formally filed against him as of January 6, the Dja FM manager told CPJ.
“The arrest of radio journalist Ali Hamata Achène sends a chilling message to those seeking to shine a light on governance issues in Chad,” Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, said from New York. “Achène should be released, and Chad should cease pursuing criminal cases against journalists for doing their jobs.”
The journalist spent the night of December 26 at the gendarmerie office, and was transferred to Mongo Prison on December 27, according to a Facebook post by Dja FM.
CPJ could not immediately determine the origin of the defamation complaint. The only person mentioned by name in Achène’s Facebook post, which has been deleted, was Djimet Arabi, Chad’s minister of justice.
Arabi confirmed to CPJ over messaging app that Achène was being prosecuted for contempt of court and was being held in pre-trial detention. Arabi did not respond to follow-up questions from CPJ about the defamation complaint.
Radio France Internationale reported that Achène’s arrest followed a complaint by a public prosecutor, who was not named in that report.
Achène has been held in solitary confinement since December 30, according to another post by the broadcaster.
The Dja FM manager told CPJ that Achène has experienced swelling in his foot after a reptile bit him during his confinement. Arabi disputed claims that Achène was being held in isolation and, without elaborating, told CPJ not to worry about the journalist’s health.
Authorities previously detained Achène on December 23, 2019, in the office of Atteib Mahamat, a public prosecutor in Mongo, after the official took issue with the questions the journalist asked about alleged corruption in the local legal system, according to a Dja FM Facebook post from that day.
CPJ called Mahamat for comment but no one answered the phone.
In September 2019, a Chad court sentenced Martin Inoua Doulguet, publisher of the privately owned Salam Info newspaper, to three years in prison for defamation and conspiracy following a defamation complaint by Toupta Boguena, a former Chadian health minister, according to CPJ research.