When President Idriss Déby came to power in 1990 he promised that "no journalist will be prosecuted and from now on newspapers are free". Ten years later the Chad authorities have still not fulfilled that pledge. In 2001 libel cases proliferated. In two months, N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo and Le Temps were prosecuted four times. "Charges against the press in Chad are always laid by the authorities, never by ordinary citizens", commented a managing editor.
The media also suffer from a precarious financial situation. A law in 1994 set up a fund to aid the private-sector press but not a cent has been handed out. State-owned media are hardly better off. Radiodiffusion nationale tchadienne (RNT) has such dilapidated installations that only the major urban areas are covered.
For the first time, a citizen was sentenced to jail for a letter published in the press. In January, Garondé Djama published a letter in N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo, accusing the Libyan ambassador in Chad of murder. A few days later he was sentenced to one month in jail and payment of one franc in token damages to the ambassador.
Two journalists arrested
N’Djamena police arrested Mahamat Hissein, managing editor of Le Progrès, on 25 September 2001 for publishing a story headed "Who wants Déby’s head?". The journalist was released a few hours later. The next day the authorities published a reply in the newspaper, affirming that "no threat is weighing on President Idriss Déby".
Mickaël Didama, managing editor of the weekly Le Temps, was arrested on 30 October by criminal investigation department police who interrogated him for four hours. He was accused of libel against the state president for writing that "the customs service now falls [...] entirely under the control of the state president’s family".
Pressure and obstruction
On 25 January 2001 soldiers occupied the premises of the weekly Le Temps for several hours. They were displeased about the publication, in the 10-16 January edition, of a communiqué by the armed opposition Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) reporting the death of senior officers in the Chad army during clashes on Libyan soil.
On 1 February Mickaël Didama was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and a fine of 25,000 CFA francs (about 38 euros), and ordered to pay five million CFA francs (about 7,600 euros) in damages. The N’Djamena criminal court found him guilty of "libel" against General Mahammat Ali Abdallah, President Idriss Déby’s nephew. On 13 December 2000 Le Temps had published an article headed "What’s happening around Idriss Déby?" about several abortive coups d’état by people close to the president. Le Temps had also published an article in November affirming that Chad authorities used money from petrol sales to buy arms. Mickaël Didama spent the night of 21 to 22 December in police custody. In January 2001 soldiers went to the editorial offices of Le Temps several times, looking for the journalist. In a letter dated 28 February to the prime minister, the Chad human rights league expressed its concern about "real threats weighing [...] on the journalist’s life". The league accused "members of the presidential guard". In February the managing editor of the weekly was summoned three times by the police and state prosecutor.
On 17 April the HCC, the communication regulatory authority, took a decision on "regulation of the media campaign for the 2001 presidential election". Article 23 of this document stipulates that "throughout the campaign period, any political debate or debate of a political nature will be banned on radio stations belonging to private concerns, associations or communities". The next article specifies that news bulletins "should not be commented on". Finally, Article 35 indicates that radio stations "which do not comply with the present decision will be suspended for the entire election campaign period". The privately-owned radio station FM Liberté contested this decision and broadcast a series of programmes about the campaign. On 8 May the HCC threatened to close the station if it did so again. Eventually, the station management reached an agreement with the HCC: FM Liberté was allowed to cover the campaign, except in its programme "Le club de la presse" ("The press club").