Law-breaking court sentences journalist to two years
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the two-year jail term that a local radio station manager received this week in Moundou, the capital of the Logone Occidental region in southern Chad. The sentence violates Chad’s media law.
Sylver Beindé Bessandé, the manager of Moundou-based community radio Nada FM and correspondent of N’Djamena-based FM Liberté, was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs (152 euros) on charges of contempt of court and undermining judicial authority. He is now detained in Moundou prison.
The charge was brought against Bessandé on 9 June for broadcasting a municipal councillor’s irate reaction outside the courthouse after receiving a suspended six-month jail sentence in a legal dispute between him and the head of the Moundou city hall administration. He accused the judges of “skulduggery.”
Bessandé’s lawyer, Boniface Mouandilmadji, told RSF that the proceedings against his client were “riddled with irregularities” and that “the defence rights were flouted.” He said Bessandé was tried under the criminal code when he should have been tried under the media law (Law No. 17 of 2010), which does not provide for jail sentences.
Moreover, it was impossible to know who filed the complaint against Bessandé (as the relevant document was missing from the case file) and the charges were changed at the last moment to include undermining judicial authority, which gave the defence no time to prepare a response. His lawyer intends to appeal.
“This journalist’s prison sentence violates Chadian law and raised questions about the justice system’s independence,” RSF said. “We urge the judicial authorities to quash this sentence and free him at once. All the legal and regulatory instruments needed to guarantee the freedom to inform already exist in Chad. They just need to be used wisely.”
Targeting Moundou’s media
This is not the first time that Nada FM has been subjected to threats and intimidation by the local authorities because of its outspoken coverage.
On 23 January, Bessandé and the representatives of two other privately-owned radio stations, Kar-Urba and Bonne Nouvelle, were summoned to police headquarters in Moundou, where they found themselves facing the heads of the police, gendarmerie, homeland security and intelligence services.
They accused the journalists of being too critical of the methods of the security services and local governance, and threated to close their media outlets. This intimidation attempt was criticized at the time by Logone Occidental’s governor and the High Council for Communication (HCC), which has sole responsibility for regulating the media in Chad.
The HCC itself gave Nada FM a formal warning in April 2016 just because it had broadcast the comments of a parliamentary representative of an opposition party, the Chad Convention for Peace and Development (CTPD).