Chad Sends a Fourth Journalist to Prison
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A story about journalism now from the central African nation of Chad. In July, four journalists there were sent to prison. Their crime: reporting news that the government didn't want reported. Human rights activists say the crackdown is an attempt to punish critics of the ruling party. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from N'Djamena, the capital of Chad.
JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:
Kumbo Singa Gali, the editor in chief of L'Observateur, doesn't look the part of a criminal. Sitting in a sweltering second-story office in N'Djamena, she wears a long colorful print dress. A matching orange cloth is wrapped over her forehead and extends around the bundle of cornrowed hair. From behind her desk, she exudes the cool confidence of a veteran journalist.
Ms. KUMBO SINGA GALI (Editor In Chief, L'Observateur): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: `The problems of this country are enormous,' she says, `problems of good governance, economic problems, political problems. And the private media are trying to make the government aware of the situation. If the government thinks they'll sleep better by sending me to prison,' Kumbo says, `well, I'm not afraid to go to jail.' Just days after this interview she began serving a one-year sentence in N'Djamena's central prison.
Ms. GALI: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: `The story is complicated,' she says, `but it started when one of my co-workers was arrested and held in secret by the National Intelligence Agency.' Her colleague was arrested over an anonymous letter to the editor that L'Observateur published that was critical of the president. When a judge finally ordered him released after six days in custody, Kumbo interviewed him about the incident. He claimed his arrest was part of an Arabic plot against him. Kumbo published the comment, and now she's in prison for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred.
She says journalists are being harassed because the private media was highly critical of a national referendum last month to allow President Idriss Deby to run for a third term in 2006. The referendum passed, but the private, as opposed to the state-run press, questioned the results, saying there were numerous flaws in the balloting.
Ms. GALI: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: `The private media,' Kumbo says, `remains the only thing that stands against the dictatorial tendencies of this government and their violence and their way of managing the country, so they want to silence the private media.'
The three other journalists who've been sent to jail in recent weeks each faced different charges. One is accused of insulting President Deby. He referred to him casually as the father of Ibrahim, which actually is correct. He has a son named Ibrahim. But prosecutors said the reporter failed to show proper respect to the president. Another is behind bars for running photographs of rebels in the east of the country.
The minister of communication in President Deby's administration, Musa Hermaji Dungor(ph), says the photos were propaganda for an opposing army.
Mr. MUSA HERMAJI DUNGOR (Minister of Communication, Chad): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: `The newspaper was making a kind of propaganda for the rebellion, and the Chadean Constitution clearly states,' Hermaji sates, `that the people of Chad have a right to oppose anyone who wants to take power by force.' The irony is that President Deby seized power by force in 1990. Hermaji says there's a free press in Chad, and it's just a coincidence that four journalists have been sent to prison in recent weeks.
Currently President Deby has reason to be nervous. There was a coup attempt against him by the military in 2004. Also in 2004, a new oil pipeline opened that's bringing hundreds of millions of additional dollars into one of the poorest countries in Africa. Despite its new wealth, the civil servants are threatening to go out on strike 'cause they haven't been paid, and there's growing criticism that power in Chad is trapped in a small clique that swirls around President Deby's family and tribe.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)
BEAUBIEN: It's not just the print media which have borne the wrath of the Chadean government. FM-Liberte was shut down by the government for several weeks in both 2002 and 2003. After the last incident, a judge ordered the government to pay compensation to FM-Liberte of about $10,000, but the station is still waiting for the money.
FM-Liberte was set up in the year 2000 by a coalition of human rights groups. Francois Jacombe(ph), who works at the station, says the employees aren't intimidated by the recent crackdown on reporters.
Mr. FRANCOIS JACOMBE (FM-Liberte): People are ready now to go to prison. The journalists are ready to protest, to strike publicly because what the government says is not correct.
BEAUBIEN: But Chadean journalists have paid dearly for standing up to the government. In 2004, the head of another private radio station, Ventanka Chan Guy(ph), was arrested after he broadcast an interview with an opposition politician. He was held for two days and severely beaten. When he was released, he was admitted directly into a hospital in critical condition.
Despite meager pay and hazards that Western journalists rarely face, many reporters here say they carry on because they believe reporting the truth might just alter the course of their impoverished country. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, N'Djamena, Chad.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.