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New press law, adopted by decree, increases penalties for offences and obstacles to starting a newspaper

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chadian government's adoption of a new press law by decree on 20 February 2008. Instead of abolishing prison sentences for press offences, it makes them much longer, and it makes it harder to launch a newspaper.

"The government promised several times that the press law would be liberalised," the press freedom organisation said. "Last September, the Union of Chadian Journalists and other media organisations recommended decriminalizing press offences. But now this new law has gone in the opposite direction, toughening all the existing provisions and increasing the penalties for press offences."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The authorities took no account of the many proposals that were submitted to them. Instead, in a cowardly fashion, they took advantage of the state of emergency to adopt this new law by decree, thereby avoiding any debate. This is an unacceptable imposition that could finish off a press that is already close to death."

Under the new law, the maximum penalty for publishing false news and defamation (articles 41 and 47) is increased to three years in prison, while the maximum penalty for "insulting the president" (article 48) is increased to five years.

Under article 15 of the old law, anyone wanting to launch a newspaper just had to file a declaration with the ministry of commerce. Now they have to appear before the prosecutor's office and the High Council of Communication. Previously, anyone publishing a newspaper only had to have a university degree. Now, under article 17, both the publisher and editor have to have graduated from a school of journalism.

Meanwhile, two communiqués issued on 18 and 21 February by the High Council of Communication and the government have banned the media from reporting "the activities of the armed opposition in any form" and "any information jeopardising national cohesion and inciting unrest."

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