Blogger and Journalist Given Suspended Sentences, Both Released
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,” received a three-year suspended prison sentence, and were released from custody on August 19, 2013.
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Jean Laokolé, a blogger and writer, was convicted of “defamation” and “abortive conspiracy against public order” on August 19, 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, 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 offenses, received the same sentence and was also released on August 19. Both journalists are reported to be appealing their sentences.
Laokolé and Topona were arrested on March 22, 2013, and May 6, 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 alleged email exchanges between Laokolé and Topona, which discussed calls for an uprising, as evidence.
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 criticize the government.
On August 29, 2013, Moussaye Avenir de la Tchiré, editor-in-chief of the Abba Garde newspaper and treasurer of the Union of Chadian Journalists, was given a two-year suspended jail sentence for “inciting hate and popular uprising” and a fine of 1 million CFA (US$2,050). He was released later the same day. De la Tchiré’s arrest on May 7, 2013, one day after Topona’s, followed in the wake of an alleged coup attempt on May 1, 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 July 30, 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 an April 16, 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.
- Find all articles by Jean Laokolé published on the blog by clicking here.
- Articles on Laokolé and Topona’s conviction and release (French only): August 19, 2013; August 23, 2013
- On De la Tchiré’s conviction (French only): August 29, 2013
- On Nguebla’s situation (French only): September 5, 2013
- Statement by the Chadian civil society organisation Droits de l’Homme Sans Frontières (DHSF) (all cases) (French only): 2 September 2013