Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about the circumstances in which Chadian newspaper editor Martin Inoua Doulguet's appeal hearing began today in Ndjamena.
Arrested last August, sentenced a month later to three years in prison on charges of libel and "association for the purpose of computer crime," and detained in the most appalling conditions, Doulguet did not attend the opening of the hearing, which is being held before a special court. He has instead begun a hunger strike "in protest against the various forms of manipulation" to which his case has been subjected.
One of Doulguet's lawyers, Emmanuel Ravanas, who travelled from Paris to attend today's hearing, described it as "hallucinating" to RSF and said he was not allowed to express his criticism of the way the appeal is being conducted.
The case was initially registered with the first chamber of investigation but, without any reason being given, it has been transferred to a special chamber, the fourth, which is directly under the appeal court president's control and in which the prosecutor-general intervenes. As Doulguet did not attend today's hearing, the case has been adjourned until 12 March.
"In view of the way things are taking place, it is clear that they want to keep our client in prison," said Ravanas, adding that he was thinking of going on hunger strike himself in solidarity with Doulguet.
"This journalist has been given a jail sentence on a trumped-up charge and has been held for months in the most abominable conditions, and now it seems that everything is being done to prevent him from getting a fair appeal hearing, which would inevitably result in his release," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "What with a special court taking over the case, a duly mandated lawyer barred from speaking, a hearing held in the prosecutor-general's office and Martin Inoua Doulguet harassed to the point of endangering his health to make himself heard, this situation is extremely worrying. We call on the Chadian authorities to guarantee him due process, so that he can be released without delay."
The editor of the Ndjamena-based quarterly Salam Info, Doulguet was initially sued for libel by a former health minister for reporting the claims of a member of her family, who accused her of sexual assault. But, as press offences are not punishable by imprisonment in Chad and the authorities were clearly bent on jailing him, he was tried not only for libel but also for "association for the purpose of computer crime" although no evidence was ever produced to support this charge.
Concerns about his health increased in December when RSF reported that he was sleeping on the ground in an improvised cell built by detainees, that he had no access to a clean shower and toilet, and that his visiting rights had been restricted. Since then, no effort has been made to improve his conditions.
Last week, RSF also learned that someone has hacked into his Facebook account and deleted messages.
Chad is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.