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Journalists flee to neighbouring countries in wake of failed rebellion; authorities harass and arrest reporters

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is very concerned by attempts to arrest several journalists in N'Djamena in the wake of an abortive military assault on the capital by a rebel coalition at the start of February 2008.

"Several opposition leaders have been arrested and are being held incommunicado somewhere in the capital," the press freedom organisation said. "There are therefore legitimate grounds for serious concern about journalists who are often identified by the government with the most radical opposition sectors. The N'Djamena media are in practice now gagged. This manhunt is disturbing and absurd, and must stop."

Shortly after the fighting ended in the capital, several journalists eluded arrests by men in military attire suspected of being intelligence agents. For example, two men in uniforms and turbans and riding a motorcycle went to the home of Reporters Without Borders correspondent Laldjim Narcisse, a journalist with the privately-owned weekly "Le Temps", at around 5:00 p.m. (local time) on 6 February. They asked children present to tell them where Narcisse was. Narcisse had left the country shortly after the fighting ended.

The two soldiers also asked to be taken to the home of "Le Temps" editor Michael Didama. They went to Didama's home twice over the next few days, and to the newspaper's office.

Several other journalists were the targets of arrest attempts around this time, Reporters Without Borders has been told. Six soldiers in a Toyota 4WD went to the home of Eloi Miandadji, the editor of the satirical weekly "Le Moustik", on 8 February with the aim of arresting him.

Dobian Assingar, a co-founder of the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and the manager of FM Liberté, a radio station that has been closed on the interior minister's orders since 16 January, has been in hiding ever since his home was destroyed by a shell.

Many journalists based in the capital fled to neighbouring Cameroon or Nigeria during the letup in the fighting that followed the failure of the rebel offensive. Some were harassed or roughed up by soldiers if they were recognised as journalists. Modilé Belrangar of commercial radio Ngato FM, for example, had his press card and mobile phone taken from him by two soldiers at he was reentering N'Djamena by the bridge linking Chad with Cameroon.

In the same location on the following day, soldiers destroyed photos taken by Frank Nakingar, the layout editor of the privately owned weekly "Sarh Tribune", one of the few publications in the southern Moyen-Chari region. The photos showed the arrival of the rebels in N'Djamena and the exodus of tens of thousands of its inhabitants towards Kousseri, the nearest Cameroonian town.

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