As of December 31, 1998

President Idriss Déby's transformation from a military dictator with strong ties to Libya and Sudan to a democratically elected president in 1996 was accompanied by increasing intolerance for the private press. Despite last year's multiparty elections for a National Legislative Assembly, and the hope for more freedoms under a constitution adopted by referendum in 1996, the government has reverted to intimidating the press in subtle and not so subtle ways.

In most cases, defamation suits have replaced his previous regime's overt acts of violence against the media. Yet the March flogging of a journalist by a soldier demonstrates that the independent press still has reason to be afraid – and that the country is a long way from true freedom of the press, an essential component of the democratic reforms that Déby claims to champion.

A number of journalists squared off against the state in court this year. In 1997, Déby filed a defamation case against N'Djamena-Hebdo after the independent weekly newspaper referred to him as a "partisan president." The judiciary, whose lack of independence has been widely condemned, ruled in the government's favor after a 15-day trial.

Despite the government's pattern of harassment, the privately owned press continues to report opposing views on such issues as the country's oil reserves, the environment, forced migration, and the means through which the government will distribute future oil revenues. As a result, authorities have accused journalists of being the "grave-diggers" of lucrative oil deals with foreign investors. This kind of pressure has led many journalists in both state-run and privately owned media to self-censorship.

Information reported by the state-owned media is strictly monitored and manipulated. When 100 Chadian soldiers supporting Laurent Kabila in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo were reportedly killed in an ambush in October, officials stated that only two had died. And when government troops reportedly committed atrocities in the ongoing conflict between the north and south of the country, authorities invoked security concerns when barring independent journalists from reporting from the affected regions.

Prohibitively high government licensing fees have stunted the growth of privately owned radio. In a country where illiteracy is high, this translates into lack of access to information. La Voix du Payson (The Voice of the Peasant), based in Deba and operated by an international Catholic organization, is currently the only private radio station in operation.

Attacks on the Press in Chad in 1998

6/3/98Sy Koumbo Singa Gali, L'ObservateurImprisoned, Legal Action
6/3/98Polycarpe Togomissi, L'ObservateurImprisoned, Legal Action
3/29/98Dieudonne Djonabaye, N'Djamena Hebdo, Radio France InternationalAttacked
2/12/98Yaldet Begoto Oulatar, N'Djamena Hebdo Legal Action
2/12/98Dieudonne Djonabaye, N'Djamena HebdoLegal Action

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