With two journalists imprisoned and a privately-owned radio station closed for two months, the year was a disappointing one for a country whose leaders regularly stress that censorship is abolished and the press is free.
Just when it seemed the worst years were long past, 2003 served as a reminder that press freedom is far from becoming a reality in Chad. In the space of a few months, two journalists were imprisoned and one of the major radio stations was closed down.
Freedom of expression in Chad has tended to improve over the past few years, but certain subjects remain off-limits, especially anything to do with President Idriss Déby and his family. The main press freedom violations in 2003 were linked to reports or editorials about the president and his entourage.
The state-owned media remained under government control. Employees in the state media obtained new equipment in May after going on strike for 48 hours.
Two journalists imprisoned
A court in N’Djamena on 6 February convicted Nadjikimo Bénoudjita, the managing editor of the weekly Notre Temps, and Mbainaye Bétoubam, its editor, of libelling the president’s mother-in-law, Hadjé Billy Douga, who is social welfare director at the ministry of social welfare and women. They were sentenced to six months in prison and to pay damages of 2 millions CFA francs (some 3,000 euros). They were also banned from working as journalists for eight months while Notre Temps was suspended for three months.
The newspaper had reported that individuals suspected of stealing jewels from Douga’s home were tortured at her behest and that one of them died as a result of his injuries. The police, however, said he died from the consequences of an incurable illness. The two journalists maintained during the trial that they got their information from the records of the N’Djamena appeal court. Interviewed by N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo about the case, communication minister Wawa Dahab said: "Chad is under the rule of law, and the executive does not meddle with the judiciary." The appeal court released Bénoudjita and Bétoubam provisionally on 1 April and changed their sentences on 6 May, giving them suspended sentences of two months in prison.
Two journalists detained
Police detained Ndjendoroum "Djen" Mbaininga, the deputy editor of the newspaper N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo, as he photographed the arrest of drug dealers on 28 May 2003. They grabbed his camera, slapped him when he tried to answer a call on his mobile phone, and took him to the police station where he was held in a cell for about an hour. The deputy prosecutor had him released after being contacted by the newspaper’s managing editor.
Koko Mbanga Kossi of the weekly L’Observateur was arrested on 13 October and interrogated at the criminal investigation department about an article suggesting that the president was involved in the murder of a businessman in September. He was released a few hours later.
Harassment and obstruction
The public security ministry closed community radio FM Liberté on 21 October 2003 for an indefinite period for "illegal operation and deviant behaviour" after it compared President Déby to former dictator Hissène Habré (1982-1990). The station accused the president of bringing into the country "predators, wreckers of the economy and contract killers who have the right of life and death over other citizens." Four days before FM Liberté’s closure (its third since 2001), station manager Dobian Assingar had received a warning from the High Council for Communication (HCC) on the orders of communication minister Moctar Wawa Dahab. The station was allowed to resume broadcasting by a public security ministry decree on 17 December.