Threats to reporters covering deadly conflicts between herders and farmers in Chad
After two cases in August of journalists being arrested for covering the tension between nomadic herders and sedentary crop farmers in central and southern Chad, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Chadian authorities to protect journalistic reporting, including coverage of these conflicts, which has become especially difficult.
August’s first arrest victim was Janvier Mouatangar, a reporter for La Voix du Paysan radio in the southern town of Doba, who was arrested by gendarmes on 8 August and was held overnight after he covered the destruction of 24 fields of crops by nomad-owned cattle.
Central and southern Chad, where many inhabitants are armed, has seen frequent and often deadly conflicts since 2019 between nomadic Arab herders and sedentary indigenous farmers, who accuse the nomads of damaging their fields with their livestock. These conflicts have led to around 100 deaths in the past 18 months and 300 since the start of 2020.
Journalists working for media outlets located close to these intercommunal clashes – hundreds of kilometres from the capital, N'Djamena – are increasingly reluctant to cover them because they fear reprisals by both the protagonists and the local authorities, who often prevent coverage, especially by reporters from privately-owned media outlets. Regarded as “informers,” they must get permission from the authorities before gathering information about these conflicts and reporting them.
“For the sake of the public's right to information, journalists must be able to work without being obstructed,” said Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s West Africa bureau. “Coverage of clashes cannot be used as a pretext for arbitrary arrests and attacks on journalists. As Chad begins an inclusive national dialogue, the authorities must reaffirm the importance for the country of having a free and independent press, and journalists who fear neither for their safety nor for their freedom.”
Nicolas Wang-Namou Senekna, the director of Radio Gaya Tcholwa (RGT), a radio station based in the southeastern town of Gounou Gaya, confirmed to RSF that reprisals are frequent. “You can see the fear of being attacked on the faces of our young reporters when they refuse to go into the field,” he said.
Radio Gaya Tcholwa editor Anner Sabartang was August’s second arrest victim. The gendarmerie arrested him on the local prefect’s orders on 10 August after he posted a report on WhatsApp about local discontent about the prefect’s decision to appoint a traditional Arab nomad chief to an official position. Handcuffed and subjected to a long interrogation, Sabartang was released after two days in custody and a thorough inspection of his phone, which is still confiscated.
“Journalists face all kinds of intimidation in this part of Chad, including arbitrary arrest and temporary detention,” RSF was told by Abbas Mahmoud Tahir, the president of the Chadian Journalists’ Union (UJT). “In conflicts between herders and farmers, their role is often not well understood and they are easily subjected to all kinds of threats.”
Urging the Chadian authorities to protect journalism, RSF joins the UJT in condemning all arbitrary arrests of journalists and calls for Sabartang’s phone to be returned to him.
Chad is ranked 104th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.