Reporters Without Borders today condemned the “archaic censorship” being implemented by the communication ministry and reiterated its call for the government of Chad to lift the draconian curbs on press freedom that are part of a state of emergency decreed three days ago.
“The publication of newspapers with black strips replacing articles censored by civil servants is a sad spectacle,” the press freedom organisation said. “Using scissors will not help the government restore peace. It will just radicalise the opposition and give it additional arguments for resisting. We urge President Idriss Deby Itno to order his government to seek negotiated solutions rather than continue with these absurd and depressing measures.”
The special unit created at the communication ministry to implement prior censorship of the N’Djamena-based print media began to function on 14 November, the day after the state of emergency was decreed in N’Djamena and six of the country’s regions, Reporters Without Borders has learned from the leading local media.
The newspapers that chose to continue publishing have seen several stories censored on each of the past three days by the special unit, consisting of Mahamat Saleh Yacoub, the ministry’s secretary-general, and Nguérébaye Adoum Saleh, an advisor to the ministry. Before each issue is approved for distribution, a provisional copy has to be taken to the minister’s office for vetting. The privately-owned newspapers L’Observateur, Notre Temps and Le Temps appeared on 14, 15 and 16 November with black strips and the word “Censored” replacing articles or photos that were removed.
Yacoub and Saleh went to the headquarters of Le Temps on 15 November and demanded to see the provisional copy of that day’s issue. On learning that it had already gone to the printer’s, they insisted that the layout editor, Dipombé Payébé, accompany them there to vet the issue and remove any elements “likely to undermine national cohesion.”
Bégoto Yaldet Oulatar, the editor of the newspaper N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo, told Reporters Without Borders he decided to suspend publication until the state of emergency’s initial period was over. According to Chad’s constitution, the president can only declare a state of emergency for an initial period of 12 days, after which parliament’s approval is needed for any extension.
The privately-owned radio stations, which according to the state of emergency decree are henceforth banned from referring to “matters liable to jeopardise public order, national unity, territorial integrity and respect for the republic’s institutions,” have so far not been affected by censorship.
The decision to restore prior censorship of the privately-owned press was prompted by recent articles about the rebels who are fighting government troops in eastern Chad. In early November, the weekly Notre Temps published photos of rebel leaders and speculated about their possibilities of any of them replaced Deby as president.
Notre Temps also published an interview with one of the rebel leaders, in which he spoke of the “post-Deby period.” On 6 November, the weekly Le Temps published the political programme of Mahamat Nouri, the head of the Union for Democratic Forces for Development (UFDD), one of the rebel groups.