- The president of the Chad Union of Privately-Owned Radio Stations (URPT), Tchanguiz Vatankhah, has been released after 20 days in detention in the capital N'djamena. The prominent journalist had been arrested for publicly stating that he favoured a postponement of the controversial 3 May presidential elections. He was only let free after promising to quit the URPT.
Mr Vatankhah talked to the Kinshasa-based press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) on telephone after he left the N'djamena prison. The journalist told JED that he had been released by Public Security and Immigration Minister Routouang Yoma Golom, on the condition that he would renounce his activities with the URPT.
Mr Vatankhah was arrested on the morning of 28 April by plain-clothed police officers who detained him secretly, over several days, at police headquarters (Services Généraux des Renseignements). He was criticised for having declared in an official public statement that he was in favour of the postponement of the last presidential election, held on 3 May and boycotted by the entire opposition.
The journalist has been on hunger strike since the beginning of May to demand the right to see his lawyer and family members. On 14 May, private radio stations all over Chad went off the air for a day to call for Mr Vatankhah's immediate and unconditional release. He ended his hunger strike on 17 May after receiving a visit from Human Rights Minister Abderaman Djasnabaille and Minister of Public Security Yoma Golom, who had ordered his arrest, along with the chief of police.
Mr Vatankhah is an Iranian who has lived in Chad for decades but does not have Chadian citizenship. His signing of an URPT press release calling for the postponement of the elections to allow more room for political dialogue caused immediate reactions. Authorities claimed that he had violated his obligations as a refugee by meddling in Chadian politics, thus threatening with expulsion. He had to promise to stay out of politics and step down from URPT in exchange to have the expulsion threat lifted.
Mr Vatankhah is the founder of 'Radio Brakos', a station in the remote southern town of Moissala, which is known for its critical coverage. Also last year, the Chadian government detained him for more than two months and threatened to expel him. The government accused Mr Vatankhah of being a security threat, but provided no details, causing the Supreme Court to deem his detention illegal in November last year.
The Chadian-Iranian editor also has spoken to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), saying that he was "very happy" to be back home with his wife, and that he was recuperating from the physical damages sustained by his hunger strike. Journalists who visited him told CPJ that he had lost a lot of weight and was having trouble walking because of a fall.
"We are relieved that Tchanguiz Vatankhah is free," noted CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper in a press statement. "We hope that his release signals an acknowledgement by President Idriss Déby's government that journalists should not be jailed for expressing an opinion," she added.
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