Chad: Crackdown on a background of military tensions

09/05/2013
Press release
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FIDH and its member organisations in Chad, the LTDH and the ATPDH are concerned about the wave of arrests, intimidation and harassment aimed at political opposition members, journalists and civil society in Chad after the failure of what authorities described as an attempted coup. Our organisations call on authorities to put an end to the repression, and to release the persons detained, as the country seems to be preparing for military tensions at several points of its borders.

On 1 May 2013, Chadian authorities announced they had foiled a "conspiracy". The instigators were arrested in Gassi’s military barracks, a division of armoured vehicles of the presidential guard at the southern exit of N’Djamena and near the 22nd Evangelical Church in the 7th district of N’Djamena. According to available information, these arrests led to fighting between soldiers of the presidential guard, military and civilians, and resulted in three to eight deaths (depending on whose report) and about 15 wounded. About 20 people were arrested during these operations and in the days that followed, including former rebel Mahamat Moussa Tao. The exact number of people arrested on 1 May has not been made public yet.

On the evening of 1 May, opposition member of Parliament Saleh Makki from the Coordination for the Defence of the Constitution (CPDC) was arrested at his home. Within a few days, a total of two members of Parliament, two generals and a colonel had been arrested : General Weiding Assi Assoue, former Defence Minister and former Chief of Staff, General David Beadmadji, Director of Military Justice (who has since been released for health reasons but remains charged), Colonel Ahidjo, current Governor of Salama, Mahamat Malloum Kadre, a member of the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS - the party of President Deby), and Saleh Makki.

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Edito du Monde le 11 mai 2013 : "Inquiétudes après une vague d’arrestations à N’Djaména" // Editorial in Le Monde, 11 May 2013 : "Serious concern after a wave of arrests in N’Djaména" (in French)

On 7 May 2013 in the morning, the director of the judicial police and three commissioners entered the homes of two opposition members: Kebzabo Saleh, President of the National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR) and leader of the CPDC, and Gali Gata Ngote, also Parliament Member and member of the CPDC. They both were absent. We have since learned that the Department of Justice submitted a letter to Parliament to enable judicial police to hear four members of Parliament: Saleh Kebzabo, the President of FAR party Gali Gata Ngote, Ngarjely Yorongar, and former Minister Routouang Yoma Golom. According to information reported by people close to the government and cited by Radio France Internationale (RFI), it is about verifying statements made by those suspected of plotting destabilisation attempts which implicated the four individuals named above, in particular Tao Mahamat Moussa.

Chadian authorities must respect procedures, even in exceptional circumstances. Respect for the rights of the defence is crucial, particularly in the context of such serious charges, said Ms. Jacqueline Moudeïna, ATPDH President.

At the end of the hearings, Parliament Members Gali Gata Ngote and Routouang Yoma Golom were charged with "conspiracy and undermining the constitutional order", and were then imprisoned. Parliament Member Ngarjely Yorongar has been released and remains at the disposal of the court as a witness. Saleh Kebzabo is still outside the country. According to other sources, the arrests were authorised by the President of the National Assembly, which was confirmed by a letter dated 7 May 2013. For a member of Parliament to be heard or indicted by the Department of Justice, the National Assembly must first lift that member’s parliamentary immunity or authorise the hearing. However, for the first two arrests, a waiver of immunity was not ordered. The 7 May 2013 letter confirms this fact, highlighting the arbitrary nature of these arrests and detentions.

While we condemn all coups or attempted coups, Chad’s recent history has shown us that such attempts, whether proven or not, are most often used to flush out or settle accounts," said Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, another member of Parliament, was arrested in February 2008 under similar circumstances, after which he then disappeared. We are still waiting for answers about his case, as well as answers regarding all the murders, disappearances and arrests which have increased in recent weeks in Chad, she added.

On 6 May, journalist Eric Topona, Secretary General of the Union of Chadian Journalists, was summoned, charged and imprisoned at the Amsinene remand centre on the outskirts of N’Djamena. He is charged with "undermining the constitutional order" in the case of Jean Laokolé, a young blogger imprisoned after being accused of defamation. The next day, 7 May 2013, the editor of the independent newspaper Abba Garde, Avenir Moussey De la Tchire, was arrested for the dissemination of articles allegedly calling for “hatred and popular uprising”. According to the police, he was brought before a judge on 9 May, charged and placed in custody. The case against journalist Jean-Claude Nekim, editor of the famous N’Djamena twice-weekly publication is still pending. After multiple lawsuits due to positions taken by the newspaper, Mr. Nekim is still pursued in several procedures, including one complaint issued by the brother of the President, Daoussa Deby. He has received two summons for which he soon must go before the judge. The Senegalese League of Human Rights (LSDH), Amnesty International Senegal, and The African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) have taken a stand against the 7 May 2013 deportation to Guinea Conakry of Makaila Nguebla, a Chadian journalist and blogger. Mr. Nguebla had been living in Senegal since 2005. Senegalese human rights organisations noted that this “sudden deportation related to his activities as a journalist and blogger (...) occurred just after the visit of the Chadian Minister of Justice, Jean-Bernard Padare to Senegal”.

The increase in infringements to freedom of the press is unacceptable and worrying for the present and the future of Chad. People are trying to silence the press and every independent voice. This is worrying, said Valentin Baldal, National Coordinator of the LTDH.

On 8 May 2013 the court again postponed (until May 14) the appeal trial of three members of the Union of Trade Unions of Chad (UST). Djondang François, Michel Barka, and Yunus Mahadjir respectively Secretary General, President and Vice-President of the UST, were convicted for “incitement of ethnic hatred”. On 18 September 2012, the Criminal Chamber of the Court of First Instance of N’Djamena had given them a suspended sentence of 18 months of prison and a fine of 1.5 million CFA (about 2,290 euros) for “incitement of ethnic hatred” after a UST petition dated 1 September 2012 that protested the "cost of living" and "the impoverishment of the population”, due to mismanagement and the corruption of authorities. (See http://www.fidh.org/Tchad-Condamnation-de-trois-12194 in French.)

In the past, we condemned the conditions surrounding the trial and the resulting verdict, which did not fill any conditions of a fair trial. Today, as yesterday, we call for the release of the UST leaders, said Ms. Belhassen.

These events are occurring during a tense period in Chad and in the sub-region. Control barriers have been re-erected on Chadian main roads, and important military movements - including heavy weapons - have been reported heading south towards the Central African Republic (CAR) border where many Chadian soldiers are engaged alongside the Seleka rebels (who took power in CAR in the beginning of 2013). Additionally, concentrations of rebel groups were seen in Sudan near the Chadian border, less than two months after the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) announced at the end of March, from Qatar, that they will resume hostilities against the government. They had laid down their arms in 2009. On 4 May 2013, President Deby disclosed on RFI that Chadian rebels were "regrouping" in a camp in Benghazi (eastern Libya), posing a new threat to the security Chad at its northern border.

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