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(New York) -- Chadian authorities must immediately release two students held since May for allegedly trying to organize pro-reform protests, Amnesty International said today, ahead of a new court hearing this week.
Bebkika Passoua Alexis and Nedoumbayel Nekaou were arrested at a bus station in the capital, N'Djamena, for allegedly carrying documents calling for Chadians to organize demonstrations inspired by protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
"If these students are being held merely on suspicion of supporting peaceful protests, we would consider them to be prisoners of conscience and they must be released immediately and unconditionally," said Erwin Van Der Borght, Africa program director at Amnesty International.
"Chadian authorities must carry out a full investigation into allegations they were tortured in custody, and bring those responsible to justice."
The students are reportedly suffering from a contagious eye disease and a serious skin disease in the central prison in N'Djamena.
Their trial proceedings have been postponed three times after National Security Agency officials failed to appear in court to testify; a new trial date has been scheduled for Thursday (September 15).
Chadian security services allegedly found two documents in their possession, which called for young people to organize demonstrations against President Idriss Deby Itno's rule. The documents made references to the pro-reform protests that resulted in leaders stepping down in Tunisia and Egypt.
According to the N'Djamena Prosecutor's Office, the two students have been charged with a "provocation directly linked to an unarmed demonstration." Although no demonstration took place, if a court finds them guilty they could still face up to six months in jail under Chadian law.
"We have seen copies of the documents in question and we consider that the content would fall under what is permissible under the right to freedom of expression. This is a blatant attempt by the authorities to prolong the students' detention using what appear to be politically motivated charges," said Erwin van der Borght.
"Chadian authorities must uphold its citizens' freedom to express opinions, even if they differ from those of the government."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.