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Privately-owned press caught up in proxy war

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned harassment and censorship of the privately-owned press by the governments of Chad and Sudan after rebels, which N'Djamena accuses of being in the pay of Khartoum, launched an offensive against the Chadian capital.

"The press - easy prey, systematic scapegoat and convenient whipping boy in case of a crisis - is once again paying the price of tension between Chad and Sudan," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The government in N'Djamena keeps the press in a threatening iron grip while in Khartoum the political police continue to prevent the circulation of opinions which are embarrassing to the government. These are distressing attitudes".

A state of emergency was declared in Chad throughout the territory on 15 February 2008, under a decree passed by Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, which brought in a curfew, as well as "checks on movement of people and vehicles, searches of homes, and controls on the public and privately-owned press".

The Chadian press is effectively moribund, with most of the capital's newspaper and radio proprietors in hiding or in exile for fear of being arrested. According to Reporters Without Borders' own count, at least ten publishers, editors and journalists of major publications and private radio stations in N'Djamena have taken refuge in Cameroon or Nigeria. The organisation's own correspondent, also a journalist with the privately-owned weekly "Le Temps", Laldjim Narcisse, is among the journalists who have decided to leave the country after intelligence services came to his home just after the fighting ended.

Only the privately-owned pro-government "Le Progrès" and the privately-owned "L'Observateur" appeared on 15 February. The privately-owned radio station, FM Liberté, is still closed on the order of the minister of the interior and public security, as is the weekly "Notre Temps", whose managing editor, Nadjikimo Benoudjita, was in December 2007 charged, after spending three days in prison, with "inciting tribal hatred". He has also left the country (see IFEX alerts of 18 and 14 December 2007).

In Sudan, on 14 February, security forces blocked publication of the privately-owned opposition daily "al-Rai al-Shaab" (close to the Popular Congress Party of Hassan al-Turabi), after it referred to the Sudanese government's support for the Chadian rebels who entered N'Djamena. Police raided the newspaper's printers at dawn and ordered the removal of two articles, before banning the entire print run of the day, according to a staff member of the paper, quoted by the Reuters news agency

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