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Cablegate: The "La Voix" Affair: Justice Prevailing

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OO RUEHBC RUEHBZ RUEHDH RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHKUK RUEHMA RUEHMR
RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHNJ #0013/01 0091000
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 091000Z JAN 10 ZDK ZUI RUEHAB 6585 SVC. VOL ALL OTHERS
FM AMEMBASSY NDJAMENA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7565
RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NDJAMENA 000013

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF/S
STATE ALSO FOR S/USSES
DOD FOR DASD HUDDLESTON
NSC FOR GAVIN
LONDON FOR POL - LORD
PARIS FOR POL - BAIN AND KANEDA
ADDIS ABABA ALSO FOR AU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREF PREL SU CD
SUBJECT: THE "LA VOIX" AFFAIR: JUSTICE PREVAILING

REF: (A) NDJAMENA 139, (B) NDJAMENA 260,
(C) NDJAMENA 409

NDJAMENA 00000013 001.2 OF 002


-----------
SUMMARY
AND COMMENT
-----------

1. (SBU) The Chadian justice system showed itself capable of
asserting impartial authority in a highly partisan environment, and
of carrying out due process and defending press freedom, when the
GOC's Justice Ministry decided Jan 6 to authorize the troubled
independent Chadian weekly "La Voix" to resume publication. "La
Voix," whose owner is a prominent lawyer and opposition figure, was
ordered to suspend publication last month because it failed to
comply with Chadian law requiring payment of registration fees, and
also as a consequence of the irregular residence status of its
Cameroonian editor. Local and international press reports
proliferated, charging that the GoC was trying to close down "La
Voix" because of its opposition stance and criticism of President
Deby's policies, and alleging that its editor and another staff
member had been "disappeared" by unknown armed men.

2. (SBU) Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to find any
evidence of disappearance or kidnapping of "La Voix" staff. The
publication, while professionally produced and edited, and no more
critical of the GOC than other independent media, seems nevertheless
to have played into the hands of partisan elements in the GoC by
mismanaging its own legal affairs.

3. (SBU) The positive outcome of the case demonstrates that justice
can prevail in Chad, and that the Justice Ministry is committed to
conducting business by the books. Ordinance 5, the emergency
measure promulgated during the 2008 rebel attacks to restrict the
ability of journalists to comment on "the work of security forces,"
was not a factor in the affair of La Voix. Ironically, the latest
effort by the Embassy to professionalize Chadian journalists
emphasized that journalists should avoid giving wary governments
excuses to interfere with their work by ignoring details like those
that derailed "La Voix" for a time. END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.


4. (SBU) La Voix's round of troubles began in October 2009, when
its editor, Innocent Ebode, a Cameroonian national who lacked
accreditation as a journalist in Chad, was expelled for working
without proper documentation. The owner of the paper, Jean-Bertrand
Padare, a prominent Chadian lawyer (who defended opposition figures
detained in February 2008), was advised by the GoC's High
Communications Council (HCC) to seek a Commerce Ministry license to
publish, but apparently failed to do so. On December 3, the HCC
ordered "La Voix" to cease publication until properly licensed, but
it did not - the last issue of the paper was dated December 31. On
December 24, the Justice Minister, Jean Alingue (himself a member of
the opposition CPDC party coalition), ordered a judicial inquiry
into La Voix's legal status. Ebode seems to have been expelled from
Chad a second time when he attempted to return in December, still
lacking accreditation. On January 6, the Justice Ministry lifted
the order on the paper to cease publication.

5. (SBU) The affair of La Voix was complicated by repeated local
and international allegtions that Ebode and Padare were targeted
for political reasons, and that the GoC was trying to presure La
Voix out of existence. Ebode and the papr's accountant were widely
reported to have beenabducted and beaten by unknown individuals in
Deember. Local human rights activists have told us tat they are
skeptical of these reports. One activist recounted a recent meeting
of the Observation Group for Media Practice and Ethics (ODEMET), an
independent press "watchdog" to which most Chadian journalists
belong, where many members accused Padare of creating rumors about
abuse of his staff by Chadian security forces so as to make his
paper into a cause celebre.

--------------
ORDINANCE FIVE
NOT A FACTOR
--------------

6. (SBU) Ordinance 5, the emergency measure restricting the

NDJAMENA 00000013 002 OF 002


ability of journalists to comment on "the work of security forces,"
which was promulgated at the time of rebel attacks in 2008, was not
a factor in the affair of "La Voix." The measure remains on the
books despite pressure from local and international journalists to
have it rescinded and to make a priority of media freedom in the
period before legislative elections in 2010. Although the ordinance
has never actually been invoked, its existence has left journalists
uncertain as to how far they can go with critical commentary.

7. (SBU) Draft legislation that would rescind Ordinance 5 and
replace it with a new law on media behavior has been circulating
among the national Assembly, HCC, Communications Ministry and other
GoC bodies for many months. Journalist associations consider the
current draft replacement text to be as bad as or worse than
Ordinance 5, in that it specifies prison terms for some types of
reporting. There is no consensus on when the text might finally be
agreed, or whether it would pass were it to be submitted to the
National Assembly.

----------
BACKGROUND
----------

8. (SBU) "La Voix" is the newest of five opposition-oriented
papers in N'Djamena, having been established in May of 2009. There
is one paper sympathetic to the government, and a just-launched
publication run by the author of an opposition website who has
recently accepted a position with the Office of the National
Mediator. Thus far, this publication appears to be relatively
neutral.

9. (SBU) A development on the local journalistic scene that
complements the Justice Ministry's decision to allow "La Voix" to
publish is the GoC's provision of a new building for the "Maison des
Medias," an independent journalist-run association that encourages
adherence to international standards of media ethics. The current
focus of the group is on mediation between reporters and citizens
who believe they have been the victims of libel or inaccurate
reporting.

-------
COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to find any
evidence of "disappearance" or "kidnapping" of "La Voix" staff. The
publication, while professionally produced and edited, and no more
critical of the GOC than other independent media, seems nevertheless
to have played into the hands of partisan elements in the GoC by
mismanaging its own legal affairs.

11. (SBU) The positive outcome of the case demonstrates that
justice can prevail in Chad, and that the Justice Ministry is
committed to conducting business by the book. Ordinance 5, the
emergency measure promulgated during the 2008 rebel attacks to
restrict the ability of journalists to comment on "the work of
security forces," was not a factor in the affair of La Voix.
Ironically, the latest installment of the Embassy's efforts to
professionalize Chadian journalists, emphasized that journalists
avoid giving wary governments good excuses to interfere with their
professional work by ignoring details like those that derailed "La
Voix" for a time. END COMMENT.

12. (U) Minimize considered.

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