November 22, 2016

Chad: Community radio station closed, manager detained

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the local authorities to reopen a community radio station in southern Chad that has been closed arbitrarily for the past week and to release the station’s manager.

Based in Kélo, in the department of Tandjilé Ouest, Radio Barkadjé was closed on the orders of the department’s prefect on 14 November after reporting a resumption of violent clashes between herders and cultivators in an ongoing conflict over land use in the region. Kélo is 400 km south of the capital, N’Djamena.

The station’s interim manager Edmond Kandi Weidigué was summoned and questioned by the police the next day. The police chief accused Radio Barkadjé of fuelling the conflict and implied that the local authorities had been keeping an eye on the station ever since its coverage of recent public sector strikes.

Defending the station’s coverage, Weidigué said its role was to “report what happens in rural areas in order to help the population to understand the need for peace and non-violent cohabitation.” He was taken into custody at the end of the interrogation and is still being held, although he has not been charged.

“We urge the authorities to reopen the radio station at once and to release its manager,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said. “Radio Barkadjé just did its job by providing the rural population with coverage of events that directly concern them. Its closure is arbitrary and illegal.”

Media outlets and journalists are often harassed by the Chadian authorities. Journalism is risky and reporters are exposed to censorship and arrest. As RSF reported at the time, Madjissembaye Ngardinon, a reporter for the newspaper Abba Gade, was arrested in June while covering a police operation.

At the same time, it is becoming harder for Chadians to access news and information. Even since the election that returned President Idriss Déby Itno to power in April, Chadians have been denied access to social networks and mobile Internet.

To avoid online surveillance and censorship, Chadians must use encrypted applications or Virtual Private Networks, but these are not accessible to most of those seeking information via the Internet.

Chad is ranked 127th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.