Reporters Without Borders today called on the Chadian authorities to shed light on the events that led to Laïssou Bagamala, a freelance contributor to the independent weekly L’Observateur, spending four days in prison - from 2 September until yesterday - as a result of a libel action and apparently in violation of legal procedures.
“It seems that people are taking advantage of L’Observateur’s current vulnerability to settle personal scores,” the press freedom organisation said. “With the level of tension prevailing in Chad since July, it is important for the government to ensure strict respect for the law in any conflict between the press and society.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “In this case, it seems that a journalist has fallen prey not only to draconian legislation but also to a malfunction of the judicial machinery. We urge the authorities to shed light on an episode that is aggravating the already poor relations between the state and the press, and to impose sanctions if appropriate.”
Bagamala was summoned to N’Djamena’s seventh district police station at midday on 2 September in response to a libel complaint brought by a bar owner over a report in issue 338 of L’Observateur about a shopowner involved in a property dispute who maintained that he had been unable to have several court orders in his favour executed.
The report accused the bar owner, a court clerk and the appeal court’s second chamber of trying to “choke the poor shopkeeper financially” in order to force him to surrender land he inherited from his father. The shopkeeper was quoted as accusing the court clerk of extorting 50,000 CFA francs (76 euros) from him three times in order to delay a court procedure.
After being held at the police station for 24 hours, Bagamala was taken before the state prosecutor and was transferred to N’Djamena prison. Reporters Without Borders was told that, following the justice ministry’s intervention he was released late yesterday pending trial. A local source said senior ministry officials had realised his imprisonment was irregular and that, in particular, the prison administration had not been notified.
L’Observateur acting editor Sy Michel Dieudonné said Bagamala’s article prompted several threats against the newspaper and that, out of a desire to shed light on a case that had led to one of his journalists being imprisoned, he has brought a complaint against the court clerk and the deputy prosecutor-general.
Four journalists are currently in prison in Chad for press offences. L’Observateur editor Sy Koumbo Singa Gali, the newspaper’s editorial coordinator, Samory Ngaradoumbé, and one of its columnists, Garondé Djarma, are serving prison sentences ranging from three months to four years after being convicted in the past two months of libel and “inciting hate.” Le Temps editor Michaël Didama is serving a six-month sentence on similar charges.
A Reporters Without Borders delegation is due to travel to Chad on 20 September for a one-week visit aimed at talking to all those involved in the current crisis and proposing speedy solutions.