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Chad 26 September 2005

Appeal court frees all four imprisoned journalists

Reporters Without Borders hailed the release today by an N’Djamena appeal court of all of the four Chadian journalists who have been imprisoned in the past few months - Sy Koumbo Singa Gali, Michael Didama, Garondé Djarma and Samory Ngaradoumbé. A Reporters Without Borders representative attended the hearings and greeted the journalists as they left prison.

“The conflict between the government and press of recent months was resolved honourably today,” the press freedom organisation said, adding: “We thank the authorities and above all President Idriss Déby for their support in this case.”

Today’s developments followed a meeting between President Déby and Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard on 22 September at which Déby promised their release and amendments to the Chadian legislation governing the media. Ménard arrived in Chad at the head of a Reporters Without Borders delegation on 20 September.

Reporters Without Borders undertook to submit a first draft of proposed amendments to Chad’s press legislation to the Union of Chadian Journalists in early November.

In today’s hearing, the appeal court quashed the convictions of Gali, Djarma and Ngaradoumbé on procedural grounds. The presiding judge nonetheless cautioned Djarma that he was guilty despite the ruling overturning his conviction.

The court upheld Didama’s conviction but accepted that there were mitigating circumstances and reduced his sentence to a month and a half in prison. As he has already spent more than a month and a half in prison, he was released after the hearing, like the other three.

Ngaradoumbé, the editorial coordinator of the privately-owned weekly L’Observateur, and Djarma, a freelance journalist, were convicted of libel and “inciting tribal hatred” on 18 July in articles criticising President Déby. Ngaradoumbé was sentenced to three months in prison, while Djarma was sentenced to three years.

Didama, the editor of the privately-owned weekly Le Temps, was sentenced to six months in prison on 8 August for libel, “publishing mendacious reports” and “inciting tribal hatred” in a report about the rebels in eastern Chad.

L’Observateur editor Gali was convicted on 15 August of “inciting tribal hatred” and sentenced to a year in prison because of a 13 July interview with Djarma in which he attributed his imprisonment to a “Janjaweed plot.” Djarma himself was sentenced to an additional year in prison because of the interview.

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