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Chad22 February 2008

Disastrous plight of independent media under state of emergency deplored

Chad is now one of the few African countries without an effective independent press since a state of emergency was declared a week ago, with journalists fleeing abroad to escape arrest or falling silent in protest against censorship and “very serious” official threats, Reporters Without Borders said today.

“The authorities cannot force the country to live in an atmosphere of constant praise for them and must understand they will continue to be criticised, with or without an independent media,” it said.

Under the 15 February emergency, a censorship committee has been set up, privately-owned papers have stopped coming out, some radio programmes have been dropped by privately-owned stations and the communications ministry has called the independent media mouthpieces of “foreign aggressors.” The crackdown has continued even though rebel forces have withdrawn from the capital, N’Djamena.

The emergency includes a curfew, controlled movement of people and vehicles, house searches and control of the media, which must submit all material for approval before printing or broadcasting.

Privately-owned newspapers said on 18 February they were halting publication for as long as the emergency lasted, in protest against “the suspension of civil liberties” and censorship. The papers were the weeklies Le Temps, L’Observateur and the twice-weekly N’Djamena Hebdo. Another privately-owned paper, Notre Temps, was banned last December. The privately-owned pro-government daily Le Progrès is now the only independent paper still appearing.

The president of the Union of Privately-Owned Radio Stations (URPT), Gapili Misset, called on member-stations to drop some programmes from today in protest against the official pre-censorship. He urged the government to begin “an open and sincere dialogue” with the privately-owned media and “stop harassing” them.

Communications minister and government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumngor told the state-owned radio station RNT on 20 February that the independent media were “conniving with the rebels and conveying their propaganda” in opposition to government efforts. The media “did not realise the danger” to the country, he said, and the government could not allow newspapers to “distract public opinion.”

Pre-censorship of the media was the “logical result of the latest Sudanese aggression” and since the country was “at war” such measures were “quite normal. He said “a responsible media would focus on the Sudanese aggression against Chad, but it does not do that.”



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