Journalists prosecuted, media outlets suspended
Inquiétudes sur la liberté de la presse au Tchad: suspension de la Radio Oxygène après une lourde condamnation du journaliste Inoua Martin Doulguet. #Adjib @RSF_inter #PressFreedomhttps://t.co/b5AlWzGPvw— Tchad Convergence (@tchadpages) October 3, 2019
Journalists arrested and prosecuted
On 23rd September 2019, a court in N'Djamena sentenced journalist and editor for the quarterly Salam Info, Martin Inoua Doulguet, to a prison sentence of three years and a high fine of two million CFA francs (3,390 USD), to be paid jointly with co-accused Abdramane Boukar Koyom, editor of the satirical newspaper Le Moustik. The latter was not given a prison sentence. In addition, damages to be paid were set at 20 million CFA francs (33,900 USD) for the complainant. The two journalists, who had been detained since 16th August 2019, were initially prosecuted for defamation, based on a complaint from the ex-minister of Health Toupta Boguéna, for having published a story on a sexual assault complaint against the former Minister. The Public Prosecutor later re-qualified the charges to 'association for the purpose of computer crime' as well as 'false accusations', for which the journalists were sentenced, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Arnaud Froger of RSF said:
"After Martin Inoua was detained provisionally for defamation, which is not punishable by imprisonment, and after the charges were changed in mid-trial with the sole aim of imposing a heavier punishment, this extremely harsh sentence suggests a political motivation. It is hard not to see this as an orchestrated reprisal against a journalist critical of the government. We call on the Chadian authorities to free him without delay.”
On 13th February 2019, Déli Sainzoumi Nestor, publisher of the investigative newspaper Eclairages was handed down a suspended six month prison sentence, a fine of 50,000 CFA francs (85 USD) and the payment of 500,000 CFA francs (850 USD) in damages by a criminal court in N'Djamena for having defamed the brother of President Idriss Déby Itno, Daoussa Déby Itno. The charge stems from an article in Eclairages published in July 2017 alleging that Daoussa Déby was involved in the illegal importation of sugar, making it difficult for the Sugar Company of Chad to sell its production.
Suspension of media outlets
On 22nd July 2019, the national media regulator Haute Autorité des Média et de l’Audiovisuel (HAMA, High Authority of Media and Audiovisual) suspended the quarterly Salam Info for a period of three months. In a statement, HAMA said that they had 'warned' Martin Inoua Doulguet on several occasions of the 'unhealthy nature of this "war by newspaper" which tarnishes the image of the profession and undermines the confraternity, an essential value in journalism'. Less than a month later, the media outlet's editor, Martin Inoua Doulguet, was arrested, initially on a defamation complaint, and was sentenced to three years in prison in September 2019 (see above).
According to media reports, HAMA also suspended the radio station Oxygène on 2nd October 2019 for a period of three months, reportedly due to the 'violation of the provisions of the specifications of private commercial sound broadcasts'.
Journalist killed by land mine
On 25th May 2019, Obed Nangbatna, a journalist for the national broadcaster Télé Tchad, died of injuries sustained by a land mine. Nangbatna was reportedly travelling with a military convoy toward Lake Chad to cover an anti-insurgency operation when the vehicle ran over a land mine.
Network measurement data confirm that previously blocked social media and messaging platforms in #Chad are now available via multiple internet providers that had complied with the censorship order 📈 pic.twitter.com/V6rKhC8BeT— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) July 17, 2019
Social media restrictions lifted after 16 months
On 13th July 2019, President Idriss Déby Itno announced the end of restrictions on the access to social media which started in March 2018. The President further said that the restrictions were implemented due to security reasons 'in a context of terrorist threats' and that the lifting of the restrictions came 'after reexamining the situation'. As reported previously on the Monitor, restrictions on access to social media and messaging applications such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger started on 28th March 2018, according to media reports, 24 hours after the conclusion of a forum dealing with changes to the country's political and administrative institutions, which was boycotted by the opposition and civil society. In 2016, similar restrictions were imposed for a period of 235 days.
“We are pleased that the government has finally heard the voices of Chadians and international civil society. Internet should not be used to serve political interests. We remain vigilant, we must now obtain a reduction in the cost of access and an improvement in the quality of the Internet in Chad. We call on the government, telecommunication operators, and the Chadian civil society to collaborate to this end."
Victims of the Hissène Habré dictatorial regime protest to demand reparations
Victims of crimes under the dictatorial regime of Hissène Habré (1982-1990) have staged several protests and sit-ins for several months to demand the payment of the reparations that had been granted to over 7,000 victims by a Chadian criminal court in March 2015. The criminal court found 20 former top security agents guilty of murder, torture, arbitrary detention and kidnapping, sentencing several of them to life in prison, and ordered the payment of 75 billion CFA francs (127 million USD) to over 7,000 victims, with half to be paid by the Chadian government. On 14th October 2019, about 300 protesters blocked Pascal Yoadimnadji avenue in N'Djamena.
Several protesters arrested during protest against shortage of gas
13 protesters were arrested, beaten and thrown into a police van when they marched from the National Assembly to the city centre in N'Djamena on 25th April 2019. The protest was called for by civil society organisations to denounce the shortage of gas in the country. The Minister of Territorial Administration, Public Security and Local Governance previously banned the protest on 22nd April 2019. Further, the main protest organiser, Versinis Nelly Dingamnayel of the Collectif tchadien contre la vie chère (Chadian Collective against Expensive Life) was reportedly detained by police officers two days before the planned protest and pressured into reading a statement announcing a suspension of the planned protest.
Mahamat Nour Ahmat Ibedou of the Convention tchadienne pour la défense des droits de l'homme (CTDDH, Chadian Convention for the Defence of Human Rights) commented:
"The comrades have decided to defy this ban because the constitution is above the administrative act of the Minister who forbids a march." (translated from French)
12 out of the 13 activists were released on 29th April 2019, while activist Tokama Kemaye remained in detention on accusations of complicity in an insurgent group based in Libya. On 9th May 2019, he was formally charged with 'complicity in undermining the constitutional order'. No further information is available at the time of writing.
Security forces disperse a student protest
On 30th April 2019, a student protest in Chad's capital N'Djamena was dispersed by police officers. Students of the University of N'Djamena gathered to protest the announcement of a rise in enrollment fees - from 28,000 to 50,000 CFA francs(47 to 85 USD). As reported previously on the Monitor, a student strike in October 2018 was dispersed by anti-riot police, and two protesters were briefly detained.
Political movement prevented from holding meeting, police fire tear
A planned congress of the political movement Les transformateurs (the Transformers) on 1st June 2019 in N'Djamena was prevented from taking place as police officers surrounded the Maison de la Femme, the place where the congress was to take place, preventing people from entering. When the leaders of the movement and its supporters subsequently tried to march through the city centre, police officers reportedly fired tear gas. According to Succès Masra, the founder of the movement, six people were injured, and Masra lost consciousness for a few minutes when he was hit by a projectile. Previously, on 23rd April 2019, the Minister of Territorial Administration refused to authorise the creation of the new political party.
Following this incident, the embassy of the United States issued a statement calling the authorities in Chad to respect the freedom of association and to allow citizens to assemble freely.