The “Zoé’s Ark” case of alleged child abduction, led to the imprisonment of three journalists covering the secret operation as well as the French managers of the organisation. Elsewhere, Chadian police did not hesitate to arrest journalists considered by the government to be too unruly.
The year began with a bad omen for the newspapers in the capital N’Djamena. The zeal of government censors had left the few publications in the capital struggling with financial problems as they had been forced to appear with parts of pages blacked out since 14 November 2006. An advance censorship committee was re-established under a state of emergency declared the previous day, following a wave of bloody clashes between Arab and non-Arab communities in the east of the country. Emergency rule also banned radio and television from raising issues “which could damage public order, national unity, territorial integrity and respect for republican institutions”.
With the exception of the privately-owned pro-government daily Le Progrès, newspapers in the capital therefore appeared with many articles deleted. Taking advantage of the emergency, authorities in Moissala in the south of the country, on 31 January carried out their first and last act of coercion towards a privately-owned radio. Police arrested Marcel Ngargoto, a journalist on community Radio Brakoss and secretary general of Human Rights Without Borders (DHSF) after he broadcast a hard-hitting exposé about the city police chief whom he accused of extorting money from residents. The journalist was accused of “ruthless handling of sensitive news which could harm national cohesion”. He was released on 19 May after he went on hunger strike for several days.
The state of emergency expired at midnight on 25 May after the government, aware that peace cannot be restored through a censor’s scissors, did not ask the National Assembly for its renewal. The special cell within the communications ministry set up to censor newspapers ceased to operate on that day and Chadian newspapers were once again free to appear as normal.
But the most extraordinary episode came at the end of October, as a result of the “Zoé’s Ark” scandal in which the French organisation planned to illegally evacuate to France around 100 children, supposedly orphans from Darfur. Covering the operation for the media were journalist/cameraman for the Capa photo agency, Marc Garmirian, photographer with the Synchro X, agency, Jean-Daniel Guillou, and journalist on France 3 Méditerranée Marie-Agnès Peleran (who was in Chad to make a documentary on her own experience hosting one of the “orphans”). They were all arrested along with members of Zoé’s Ark” and faced the same charges. Several foreign journalists who arrived to cover the case were themselves threatened or assaulted by Chadian demonstrators, outraged by the case and its exploitation by the N’Djamena government. The three journalists were released and then acquitted under international pressure and the personal involvement of French President, Nicholas Sarkozy.
The Chadian authorities and an often fractious low-circulation private press - which hardly sells outside the capital - have in the past few years lived in a state of permanent mutual distrust. Threats and harassment are frequent, as exemplified by an incident at the start of October in which a car owned by, managing editor of the privately owned weekly Le Temps, Michael Didama, was machine-gunned and torched while he was on a trip abroad.
The year ended with another arrest on 14 December, of Nadjikimo Benoudjita, managing editor of private weekly Notre Temps who was charged three days later with “incitement to tribal and religious hatred” then released on bail awaiting trial. While he was in custody, judicial police in his presence searched his home, which doubled as an office for Notre Temps during which police told Nguémadki Dkimasngar, the editor of the very low circulation newspaper that the minister of information and public security had ordered that the paper be “purely and simply shut down”. Nadjikimo Benoudjita has since left Chad, thus satisfying the desire of the government to get rid of an acerbic critic without having to lumber itself with a highly political prisoner.