CHAD: Blogger and journalist given suspended sentences, both released

24 September 2013 – Update #2 to RAN 17/13

PEN International welcomes the release of blogger and writer Jean Laokolé and journalist Eric Topona, both associated with the well-known Blog de Makaila. Laokolé and Topona were convicted on charges of defamation and “abortive conspiracy against public order”, handed down a three-year suspended prison sentence and released from custody on 19 August 2013.

Jean Laokolé, blogger and writer, was convicted of “defamation” and “abortive conspiracy against public order” on 19 August 2013. Given a three-year suspended sentence, Laokolé was subsequently released from prison the same day. The charges brought against him are thought to relate to a series of articles denouncing corruption, poor governance and nepotism in Chad that he wrote and posted in 2012 on a well-known Chadian blog, Le Blog de Makaila (‘.((strlen(‘’)>40) ? substr(‘’,0,40).’…’ : ‘’).’‘), under the pseudonym Vourboubé Pierre.

Laokolé’s colleague, broadcast journalist and secretary general of the Union of Chadian Journalists (Union des Journalistes Tchadiens), Eric Topona, was convicted of the same offences, received the same sentence and was also released on 19 August. Both journalists are reported to be appealing their sentences.

Laokolé and Topona were arrested on 22 March and 6 May 2013 respectively. Identified by the security services as the author of a series of articles critical of the Chadian government, Laokolé was detained after a complaint was filed about an article he wrote. Negotiations were reportedly already underway between the parties who felt he had brought “false accusations” against them, with an agreement reached that Laokolé would publish an apology on his blog and would also send a letter of apology to those likely to have been injured by the post; however, he was arrested before he could comply. Topona was arrested after being called to testify on Laokolé’s case at the N’Djamena Magistrate’s Court. He was accused of working with Laokolé and contributing to Le Blog de Makaila. During the trial, prosecutors produced as evidence alleged email exchanges between Laokolé and Topona, which discussed calls for an uprising.

Makaila Nguebla, owner of Le Blog de Makaila, which is reportedly the most viewed blog by Chadians both inside and outside the country, was granted a long-term visa in France in July 2013 after fighting deportation to Chad from Senegal, and later Guinea Conakry. He is now seeking asylum in France.

Laokolé and Topona’s convictions are part of a spate of suspended sentences being handed down to Chadian journalists and editors who criticise the government.

On 29 August 2013, Moussaye Avenir de la Tchiré, editor-in-chief of the Abba Garde newspaper and treasurer of the Union of Chadian Journalists, was handed down a two-year suspended jail sentence for “inciting hate and popular uprising” and a fine of 1 million CFA (€1,500). He was released later the same day. De la Tchiré’s arrest on 7 May 2013, one day after Topona’s, followed in the wake of an alleged coup attempt on 1 May 2013 in which eight people were reportedly killed in unclear circumstances. In December 2012, De la Tchiré reportedly received a number of threats relating to the publication of an issue of Abba Garde that was particularly critical of the ruling party; he and his journalists are often threatened and harassed.

On 30 July 2013, Juda Allahondoum, editor of the private weekly newspaper La Une, was convicted of criminal defamation and given a six-month suspended prison sentence. The sentence reportedly relates to a 16 April 2013 story in the paper which discussed the findings of a government audit and alleged the involvement of presidential advisers in the embezzlement of ruling party funds.

Both De la Tchiré and Allahondoum are reportedly also appealing their sentences.

Useful links