Voices in Danger: Chad - Journalist seized in front of his family and thrown into a disease-ridden jail for investigating the government

In politically unstable Chad, journalists working to expose corruption can disappear from their families without a moment's notice



Jean Etienne Laokole, a journalist and blogger operating in Chad, was walking along the street in his home town, the capital city, N’Djamena, with his family one evening when he was stopped by police, bundled into a car and taken away for questioning.

That was on 22 March. Today, nearly six weeks later, he is still in a filthy jail, still waiting for his controversial trial for defamation.

It was the second time he had been questioned that Friday after publishing two articles critical of government figures. One piece revealed the names of alleged intelligence agents working for the minister of housing, while the other attacked the president, Idriss Deby’s, management of his government.

Journalism is extremely dangerous in this politically unstable country. Only last night a number of opposition figures were arrested amid allegations from the government of an attempted involving an opposition MP. As such, Laokole had published his work under an assumed name on his blog. However, the authorities worked out his identity.

As far as the 47-year-old journalist’s wife and five children were concerned, for three days he disappeared off the map.

Eventually a lawyer, Pierre Mianlenger, got in to see him in the disease-infested and dangerous jail complex known as Amsinene. As Mianlenger described: “It’s very unhealthy and dangerous there. The conditions of detention are so poor that they are akin to a punishment: cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

He adds: “I had a client who died there recently because of an illness he caught while jailed at the prison.”

Laokole is strong and remains healthy. So far. But, says his lawyer: “He is scared. He is scared not only for himself but for what might happen to his family. What he wrote is extremely controversial.”

His family are suffering hugely from worry about his condition, but are “bearing up” under the pressure, Mianlenger says.

Laokole eventually came before a magistrate on 26 March and has been charged with defamation, but also for writing articles “held to affect the person of the head of state”.

He has been refused bail and faces a sentence of three months’ jail and a fine that could reach 1m CFA francs (£1300) – a huge amount for a Chad citizen.

There is, says Mianlenger, absolutely no way Laokole should be being held in custody while he awaits his trial. Every day he has to spend in the filthy Amsinena camp is a danger.

The police believe he has a source, or an accomplice in the government, who has been leaking him information for his articles. He is repeatedly questioned about the source’s  identity, his lawyer says. Perhaps that explains his lengthy detention.

The NGO Human Rights Without Borders put Mianlenger in touch with Laokole’s family and he is working for them pro bono: “I think it’s important for everyone to have a proper defence and lawyer,” he says.

Mianlenger hopes the Independent’s Voices in Danger project will help his client’s cause: “I hope more and more people know about him. That could help and protect him.”

The Independent asks if he thinks Laokole, the son of an opposition party leader, would continue with his critical journalism.

He laughs: “I haven’t asked him that question, but even though he is clearly scared, I can tell you he will. He is a very strong minded writer and I don’t think he could ever stop. He will not give up.”

Attempts by The Independent to get a comment on his case from Chad’s embassy in Washington went unanswered.

Interview by Marie Winckler. Please distribute this story about Jean Etienne’s case through social media.

Raise his case with your local MPs and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. You can help pressurise the Chad government to give him a fair trial and release him on bail by writing to the President:

Monsieur Idriss Deby

Président de la République

Présidence de la République

BP 74, N’Djamena


Fax: +235 2251 45 01

This article is part of the series Voices in Danger, which aims to highlight the plight of journalists working in difficult conditions around the world.

Background on Chad

The authorities and the print media in Chad have what Reporters Without Borders describes as “a climate of permanent mistrust” which has prevailed for years. That would be healthy, were Chad a fully functioning democracy.

Faced with shortages of all natural resources bar oil, and with an influx of refugees from neighbouring Sudan and Central African Republic, this is one of the world’s most troubled countries. In one week of April alone, the UN refugee agency reported, some 50,000 fled over its border from Sudan.

Attempting to rule is President Idriss Deby, who gained power in a coup in 1990. That power grab saw the army general turn against the previous president, who had also, in his time, seized power in a military overthrow. There have been numerous coup attempts against Deby since.

For journalists trying to cover events here, while Chad’s constitution guarantees media freedom, the reality is somewhat different.In August 2010, a repressive Press law was passed allowing for exorbitant fines for defamation and the suspension of newspapers for up to three years if they transgress. Journalists, like opposition activists, are regularly harassed, attacked and jailed.

Jean-Claude Nekim, editor of the opposition newspaper N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo was given a one-year suspended sentence last September. His newspaper was suspended for three months after running a story condemning bad governance in the country. Just before Christmas, two editors of the Abba Garde (which translates roughly as The Sentinel newspaper), were harassed and attacked in N’Djamena. Local journalists told the Committee for the Protection of Journalists they believed the attacks were in response to critical coverage of the government. According to Reporters Without Borders, abduction, kidnap attempts, harassment and threats to journalists create a climate of danger and fear. Many Chadian journalists operate in exile. The case for Jean Etienne Laokole will only make that atmosphere worse.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?