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Media obstructed, Internet disconnected during presidential election

A man casts his ballot during elections in N'Djamena, Chad, Sunday, April 10, 2016
A man casts his ballot during elections in N'Djamena, Chad, Sunday, April 10, 2016

AP Photo/Abakar Mahamad

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 13 April 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns several measures taken by the authorities during the first round of Chad's presidential election on 10 April, including disconnecting the Internet, blocking SMS messaging and temporarily withdrawing the accreditation of three French journalists.

The election, in which President Idriss Déby Itno was seeking a fifth consecutive term, was conducted under heavy police and military surveillance.

Mobile and fixed-line Internet was disconnected on the morning of 10 April and still had not been fully restored yesterday. Access to social networks and use of SMS messaging were also still impossible yesterday. These measures limited the public's access to information at a crucial moment in the nation's life.

RSF also deplores the fact that a reporter, cameraman and editor with the French TV station TV5 Monde were prevented from working for 24 hours and from covering the vote count.

Their problems began when they filmed a violent dispute in an Ndjamena suburb on 10 April between police officers and voters angry about not being able to vote. The police seized the TV5 Monde's crew's camera and when the journalists finally recovered it at police headquarters, they found that the footage of the dispute had been carefully deleted.

The communication ministry then announced that press accreditations issued to foreign journalists were no longer valid. Although they had been given accreditation to cover the elections until 20 April, the three TV5 Monde journalists had to wait 24 hours before resuming their work.

“The High Council for Communication spoke of a 'dysfunction' and gave us an apology,” TV5 Monde reporter Guillaume Valladier said. “They then even suggested that we cover certain events. We got the impression that contradictory orders had been given.”

“The authorities failed in their duty to ensure that the necessary conditions were in place for Chadian citizens to receive pluralistic media coverage of the first round of the election,” said Constance Desloire of RSF's Africa desk. “Chadian journalists with independent media outlets also had problems covering early voting by soldiers and nomads before election day.”

The authorities have been harassing Chadian journalists and media outlets for the past year and forcibly expelled a French journalist last June. And this was not the first time the authorities resorted to Internet blocking when unfavourable reports were circulating. They tried to block Facebook in February when reports about the gang-rape of a teenage girl sparked street demonstrations.

Chad is ranked 135th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 World Press Freedom Index.

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