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Chad: Journalist Imprisoned

(May 21, 2013) On May 6, 2013, Eric Topona, the General Secretary of <?Chad's Union of Journalists, was arrested after being invited to the Justice Palace that morning. Topona’s father is a political opponent of the current government and head of the National Union for Development and Renewal, an opposition political party. The charge on which he is being held is causing “trouble to the constitutional order.” (Daniel N’Doh Nadjitan & Franz Wild, Chad Arrests Journalist over Government Criticism, Union Says, BLOOMBERG (May 6, 2013).)

Topona is being held in a prison on the outskirts of the capital city, N’Djamena. His lawyer, Sobdibe Zoua, said of the situation, “[t]he arrest in itself does not surprise me. … It is the charge itself that surprises. When you talk of attempt at constitutional order, you see that the intention is there to deal ruthlessly. It is a very very very serious offense.” (Chad: General Secretary of the Chadian Union of Journalists Locked Up, RFI ONLINE (May 8, 2013), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201305081477.1_23ed0025a2446e4f.)

Under Chad’s Penal Code,attacks, plots,and other abuses against the constitutional order and the integrity and securityof the country can be punished, depending on circumstances, with confiscation of property, fines, lifetime or limited time forced labor, or the death penalty. (Code Pénal, arts. 81-91, CODE PÉNAL (N’Djaména, Jan. 2010).)

The arrest occurred in a time of tension in Chad, due to the arrest on May 1 of four officials who are accused of having planned a coup d’etat. Two generals and two legislators were arrested; it was alleged that they had been plotting the coup for four months.(Dany Padire, 4 Chad Officials Accused of Failed Coup Attempt, AP (May 2, 2013).)

The organizationReporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) has expressed concern about Topona on several occasions, including upon this recent arrest. (Chad: General Secretary of the Chadian Union of Journalists Locked Up, supra.) In a statement published the day of his arrest, the organization noted that Topona’s arrest follows that of a blogger detained since March 22 and said, “[t]he arrest and charging of Topona, who has been harassed several times in the past in connection with his journalistic activities, are unacceptable and constitute a flagrant violation of freedom of information. … We call for his immediate and unconditional release.” (Journalist Arrested After Being Summoned to Law Courts, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (May 6, 2013).)