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Human Rights in Chad

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Chad: Opposition members and human rights activists banned from freely protesting ahead of election

(Press Release February 9, 2021 )

The ban on public demonstrations and the arbitrary arrests of opposition members and civil society activists at the weekend send a wrong signal on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly ahead of the Chad’s presidential election in April, Amnesty International said today.

While a platform bringing together political parties, human rights associations, and civil society, called for a protest on 6 February, the authorities issued a decree on 4 February banning all demonstrations across the country, citing fears of public disorder. At least 14 people arrested on 6 February were charged yesterday with “assault and battery, disturbing public order and destruction of state property” before being remanded in custody in the capital N’Djamena. Around 30 others were sentenced yesterday to between two and three months in prison in the southern town of Moundou where some of them were arrested on 4 February while preparing the protest.

Over the last three months, authorities in Chad have several times banned demonstrations in the country and carried out arbitrary arrests. These bans are unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Abdoulaye Diarra, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.

“Over the last three months, authorities in Chad have several times banned demonstrations in the country and carried out arbitrary arrests. These bans are unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” said Abdoulaye Diarra, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.

“The situation confirms the rapidly shrinking civic space in Chad, as elections approach despite the Constitution and international law guaranteeing every citizen the right to freedom of association and demonstration. The authorities must drop the charges and release all those arrested solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in N’Djaména and elsewhere.”

According to information received by Amnesty International, police on 6 February fired tear gas at protesters in N’Djamena to disperse a gathering which was starting to form.

Some protesters including the leader of the opposition party “Les Transformateurs” are still at the US Embassy where they took refuge when police started firing tear gas.

In November and December last year, Amnesty International documented the resurgence of attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Chad, denouncing and calling on the authorities to end restrictive measures imposed on opposition parties by a police unit.

HUMAN RIGHTS REFORMS NEEDED IN CHAD:

  • Ratify outstanding international treaties including the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, International Convention on Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Protect human rights defenders from reprisals in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
  • Accept visits by UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, violence against women, rights to water & sanitation, human rights defenders, and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.
  • Amend ordinances regulating public meetings and protests to insure they meet international human rights standards on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful Allow civil society platforms to carry out their activities without fear of prosecution or reprisals.
  • Cease using charges of contempt of court and defamation to restrict the right to freedom of expression. Stop misusing the criminal justice system to target people for exercising rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including human rights defenders and journalists.
  • Unregistered associations should not be illegal. Members should not be subjected to criminal sanctions due to lack of registration.
  • Unblock access to all websites because of content critical of authorities, and refrain from restricting access to the internet and messaging apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
  • Refrain from using language that disparages or discriminates against human rights defenders and journalists, characterizing them as “rebels”, “enemies” or “opponents.”
  • Investigate threats, attacks, and intimidation against human rights activists and journalists, and bring the suspected perpetrators to justice in fair trials.
  • Insure a clear chain of accountability within the Agence Nationale de Securité (ANS), so that its powers of arrest are subject to judicial oversight, and persons who are victims of abuse by the ANS have effective recourse and access to reparation. Publicly instruct the police, army, ANS, and gendarmerie to end unlawful arrest, incommunicado detention, and detentions without charge beyond the 48-hour period stipulated in the Criminal Code.
  • Permit all detainees, after their arrest and regularly during their detention, to see their families, independent medical practitioners, and lawyers of their choice.
  • Allow independent human rights monitors access to all detention centers. Regulate the ANS so that it complies with UN good practices on legal and institutional frameworks for intelligence services and does not detain individuals in unregistered or unlawful facilities.
  • Immediately declare an official moratorium on executions, and abolish the death penalty.
  • Insure that current austerity measures do not result in discrimination of any kind, prioritize the most marginalized groups when allocating resources. Maintain Chadians’ economic, social and cultural rights to health care, education and adequate standard of living.

Overview of the human rights situation in Chad

President Déby publicly stated in December 2007 that “too much liberty kills liberty. Too much liberty leads to disorder. Too much democracy destroys society.”

Chad’s recent history has been marked by constant security concerns and threats caused by both the external environment of Chad (sharing borders with fragile countries: Niger, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan and Libya) and internal challenges, sporadic friction with armed groups and civil unrest. Security has become the excuse that the Chadian authorities give for restraints on freedoms of expression, including press freedom, political activism, and access to social media.

When President Idriss Déby Itno seized power from former President Hissène Habré in December 1990, he promised to end the human rights violations and other abuses that were common during the period of Habré’s rule. In his first public speech, he declared there would be “no more military campaigns, no more political prisons” and that he would lead Chad towards “a system of government based on democracy… democracy in its fullest sense.” However, after nearly 27 years in power, human rights violations are increasing, and the government and security forces have consistently resisted pressure to comply with the  international and human rights treaties that Chad ratified and are part of its Constitution.

Although civil liberties have been in jeopardy since President Déby took power, many human rights defenders consider 2006-2008 to be a period of intensification. In April 2006, a coalition of opposition armed groups called the United Front for Change (Front Uni pour le Changement, FUC), launched a failed attack on N’Djamena, and the authorities responded by arresting and secretly detaining at least 12 civilians and 14 army officers. When another coalition of armed opposition groups attacked N’Djamena again in February 2008, at least 380 people were arrested and detained, including opposition leaders Lol Mahamat Choua and Ngarlejy Yorongar. Opposition leader Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh was subjected to enforced disappearance and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Torture, rape, and other forms of ill-treatment in detention are routine in Chad. Prison conditions are already dire, and at worst, life-threatening. Detainees are at greater risk of ill-treatment, torture or extrajudicial execution when held incommunicado or in unauthorized or undisclosed places of detention. They are also at particular risk when arrested by unidentified units of the security forces – a practice which has been common in Chad. Those suspected of having links with armed opposition groups may be especially vulnerable, particularly as the security forces operate virtually with total impunity.

An alleged attempted coup in May 2013 was suppressed when security forces indiscriminately opened fire on a group of reportedly unarmed people. Between three-eight people were shot dead. Security forces then arrested and detained many of the injured and refused them immediate access to medical treatment. A number of political opponents were detained. They were later charged with “conspiracy, endangering the constitutional order and complicity of assassination.” The whereabouts of many of them were unknown, despite repeated requests for information from family members and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

The situation has been getting worse since 2015. Security threats and discontent related to the country’s current economic crisis have provided a context for a new wave of repression. State efforts to repress the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association have intensified during a period that included a highly contested presidential election, attacks by Boko Haram and a severe ongoing economic crisis provoked by a sharp drop in the price of oil (Chad’s main source of funds). During this time, as political and economic discontent have grown, individuals and organizations have increasingly voiced their dissent, and the Chadian authorities and security services have responded by banning protests and arresting, prosecuting and intimidating government critics.

The right to peaceful protest, recognized both by the Chadian Constitution and international law, has come under increasing attack, and the authorities have used outdated laws from the 1960s to demand – and then refuse authorizations for public gatherings. In 2016 alone, Amnesty International documented at least 13 ministerial decrees banning peaceful protests, not including those prohibited uniquely through verbal statements.
On 19 March 2016, for example, the Minister of Public Security and Immigration announced in the media a blanket ban on all demonstrations unrelated to an official election campaign for the period of 20 days, from 20 March to 8 April 2016. While bans on peaceful protest are not necessarily new, they have become more pronounced as dissent has grown. At least four platforms and movements – comprising at least 65 associations – and two other organizations told Amnesty International that they have never received an authorization to organize a peaceful protest since they were created between 2014 and 2016. Others, including the Chadian National Students’ Union (Union National des Etudiants du Tchad, UNET) and three trade union organizations, stated that they have not been granted authorization since 2008.

Chadian security forces have broken up unauthorized demonstrations, sometimes using excessive and deadly force. In March 2016, police were caught on video beating and humiliating dozens of students who had been protesting in N’Djamena, following a protest in which one student was killed. In February 2016, at least 40 activists belonging to the Collective of Chadian Youth Associations and Movements (Collectif des Associations et Mouvements de la Jeunesse du Tchad, CAMOJET) were arrested for participating in two peaceful protests, while in December 2016 security forces also occupied the headquarters ofthe Union of Chadian Trade Unions (Union des Syndicats du Tchad, UST) and prevented female members from holding a planned demonstration against government austerity measures. Individuals involved in organizing such protests – or other forms of dissent – are also targeted with arrest and prosecuted on charges including public disorder, incitement to an unarmed gathering, defamation or contempt of public authorities. Amnesty International has documented the cases of 10 human rights defenders and activists, as well as three journalists, who have been prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, expression and association between January 2016 and July 2017. I

For example, in March 2016 four leaders of pro-democracy movements and organizations, Celine Narmadji, Nadjo Kaina, Mahamat Nour Ibedou and Younous Mahadjir, were arrested in N’Djamena for planning to organize a peaceful public demonstration against President Déby’s bid for re-election. Convicted of both disturbing public order and disobeying a lawful order, they spent over three weeks in detention before being released with four-month suspended sentences and prohibited from engaging in any subversive activities. In a similar case, a year later, Nadjo Kaina together with Bertrand Solloh, two leaders of the citizen movement Iyina – ‘we are tired’ in local Arabic – were arrested by agents of the National Security Agency (Agence Nationale de Securité, ANS) for calling on citizens to wear red on 10 April 2017 to show their solidarity with the movement on the anniversary of the 2016 Presidential election. Kaina and Solloh were detained by the ANS without access to their families or lawyers for 16 and eight days respectively, before being handed over to the judicial police, charged with attempted conspiracy and organizing an unauthorized gathering. They were eventually convicted and released with six-month suspended sentences. They claim to have been tortured while in detention, suffocated with plastic bags containing chili.

Human rights defenders and journalists have told Amnesty International how they have been threatened and intimidated by either anonymous individuals or those identifying themselves as members of the security services. For example, in February 2017, Eric Kokinagué, the Director of Publication of the newspaper Tribune Info, received more than a dozen anonymous threatening calls from different numbers after he published an article heavily critical of President Déby. Then, on 25 February, the columnist who wrote the article, Daniel Ngadjadoum, was abducted by armed men, detained for up to 24 hours in what he believes to be an ANS facility and forced to write a letter of apology to the Republic.

In January 2017 the Minister of Territorial Administration, Public Security and Local Governance issued a decree denying a request made by eight civil society organizations to peacefully protest against austerity measures on January 25. He announced in the media that “The civil society protest scheduled for 25 January is strictly forbidden on the whole national territory […]. The defense and security forces are required to ensure the implementation of this decision.” Two days later, the government sent an SMS message to all AIRTEL and TIGO customers to inform them that the protest was banned. When a number of protesters in N’Djamena managed to come together, the security forces used tear gas to disperse them. During the protest, at least seven peaceful protesters from the Chadian Convention for Human Rights (Convention Tchadienne pour la défense des droits humains, CTDDH) were arrested. They were charged with rebellion, participating in an unarmed gathering and public disorder and released after 22 days in detention. During the same demonstration, Versinis Nelly, spokesperson of the Collectif contre la vie chere was beaten by security forces before being taken to the judicial police headquarters. The Public Prosecutor who was present at the judicial police headquarters when he was brought in, intervened to free him. Similarly, Djimet Wiche, a journalist at Alwihda Info, was also beaten by security forces while covering the protest.

The ANS

The repression faced by human rights defenders, civil society organizations, trade unions, journalists and others is carried out by different arms of the state, sometimes working in parallel. On the one hand, there is the official justice system including the police, the gendarmerie and the courts. On the other, there is the National Security Agency (ANS) – the successor to the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), Hissène Habré’s intelligence services. ANS agents have regularly been involved in the surveillance, intimidation, arrest and detention of critics of the government, which demonstrates the essential role of this agency in the repression of human rights defenders in Chad. While the ANS is not accused of crimes on the same scale as those committed by the DDS – responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people between 1982 and 1990 – the two agencies do share a mandate, structure and methods that facilitate the continued commission of human rights violations. Firstly, like the legal mandate provided for the DDS, the mandate provided to the ANS is both vague and far reaching, focusing on “subversion and destabilization directed against the vital interests of the state and the nation” but also “any mission with which the political authority may entrust it.” The 2017 decree says that “the scope of the ANS missions is only limited by human rights” as well as “the Laws of the Republic and Chad’s international commitments.” The broad powers and mandate provided to the ANS have allowed it to repress government critics. The mandates of the ANS and DDS have several similarities. They are both broad and lack the limitations and safeguards recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The ANS’s powers were increased in January 2017. While a previous Presidential Decree issued in April 1996 made clear that the ANS did not have the powers to arrest or detain individuals, but instead must refer suspects to the police and gendarmerie, this was overturned in January 2017. In the new decree, the ANS has been provided legal powers to “arrest and detain suspects for purposes of investigation, where they represent a real or potential threat, in accordance with the laws of the Republic.”

Even without these new powers, the ANS had for years already been illegally arresting people and detaining them in unofficial detention facilities, holding people without charge long beyond the legal limits and without providing access to families and lawyers.  Although Article 243 of the Chadian criminal procedure code states that “preventive detention must be carried out in a prison” and that custody periods must be carried out at the judicial police or gendarmerie brigades, people arrested by the ANS are instead typically detained in ANS facilities. According to one source identifying himself as an ANS agent, ANS detention sites are “scattered throughout the city of N’Djamena.” Senior state officials interviewed by Amnesty International refused to comment on the legality of ANS detention centres, describing it as “classified information.” The founding decree of the ANS underlines that the agency is also “subordinated” to the Presidency, who has authority over ANS’ missions, organization and attributions. The ANS has nearly complete impunity for human rights violations committed its custody.

Surveillance and online censorship

Chadian authorities use surveillance methods to follow the activities of human rights defenders without providing the protections required by regional and international standards. Some HRDs and journalists described how, after being arrested, ANS agents and the judicial police told them that they had listened to their calls and showed them a record of their phone conversations and SMS messages. Sources within private telecommunication companies in Chad confirmed the practices of phone tapping and monitoring calls, saying that the authorities justify it for national security reasons. To date, there is no law requiring judicial oversight for any surveillance activities. Further, the N’Djamena Public Prosecutor confirmed that he has never delivered a legal authorization for surveillance to any institution or individual. In response to these surveillance tactics, human rights defenders increasingly use social media sites and messaging services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber to share information and communicate. Throughout much of 2016, from before the Presidential election in April until the end of the year, the Chadian authorities restricted access to social media platforms and messaging services including Facebook and WhatsApp. Since mid-March 2018, access to some social media has been restricted. Anical problem.

For example, Mahadine Babouri is a Chadian online activist, a blogger who was arrested on 30 September 2016 and held for three days at a facility run by the National Security Agency (Agence National de Sécurité, ANS), where he was denied visits from his family or lawyer. During this time he was tortured, beaten up and subjected to electric shocks. He was then held in several facilities including the prison in Moussoro, from which he was transferred to Amsinene prison in Ndjamena on 21 February 2018. Mahadine had originally been charged with undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrectional movement. If he had been convicted he could have faced life imprisonment. Mahadine was one of 10 prisoners of conscience who were highlighted as part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign in 2017. Over 690,000 actions were taken from people across the globe for his immediate release. They had also called, pending his release, for his transfer to the Amsinene prison in Ndjamena, to be closer to his family. Mahadine is one of dozens of human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists in Chad who have been arbitrarily arrested in recent years for criticizing the government.

On January 24, 2020 Baradine Berdei Targuio, a Chadian human rights defender, was arrested at his home in N’Djamena by masked and armed individuals. Amnesty International was informed that he was being kept at the National Security Agency (ANS), but nobody was able to see him. Although the Minister of Justice declared in February that Baradine Berdei Targuio’s arrest was legal and under the supervision of a prosecutor for “subversive activities on social media”, it wasn’t until 21 August that he was eventually presented to a prosecutor and an investigative judge. He was charged with breach of national security, illegal possession of weapons, assault and battery. Amnesty International is concerned that Baradine Berdei Targuio is being detained and prosecuted in connection with his work as a human rights defender.  He was given a 3 year sentence for reporting on President Deby’s health.

Relevant Links
Chad Newsroom



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