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Chadian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against a human rights defender sentenced to two-year imprisonment for peacefully expressing his views on the country’s judicial system, Amnesty International said today.

Djeralar Minkeol is a Chadian activist and Director of Association Ngaoubourandi (ASNGA), an organisation that focuses on opposing land-grabbing, and oil production issues. He was sentenced yesterday after having been arrested without a warrant last month following a radio interview during which he condemned the corrupt practices of some judicial officers. He was charged with “insulting the judiciary” (outrage a magistrate) and the public prosecutor who ordered his arrest was one of the plaintiffs in the trial.

“Djeralar Minkeol is a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released with all charges against him dropped. This move to silence government critics shows how freedom of expression is still being severely and unduly restricted in Chad,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

“This is a clear attempt to punish a human rights defender for peacefully expressing his views and to deter him and others from doing so. This sentence has nothing to do with justice.”

Djeralar Minkeol was arrested on June 15 by the public prosecutor of the Logone Occidental region who questioned him about an interview he had given on June 7 on radio FM Liberté. In the interview, he condemned land grabbing in the area, and suggested that some local authorities, security forces and magistrates – without naming any individuals – were complicit.

Yesterday, 23 days after his arrest, Djeralar Minkeol was sentenced to two-year in prison and a fine of 100,000 Cfa francs (around 167 USD) by the High Court of Justice of Moundou, the region’s main city.

Djeralar Minkeol is currently at the regional hospital of Moundou where he was admitted on June 23 with severe malaria and typhoid. He must have access to sustained medical care, Amnesty International said.

Seventy five activists including 23 women, mainly from farming communities in the department of Gueni, were also arrested on their way to attend the trial to show their solidarity. They were released hours after being in detention excepting Jean Pierre Mbaiguen who is still in police custody at the “Commissariat du Marché” in Moundou.

“Expressing an opinion about alleged land grabbing or corruption should not be treated as a crime. Minkeol should never have been charged and the farmers should never have been arrested. Chadian authorities should stop violating basic rights to freedom of expression and assembly that are protected under the international human rights law,” said Steve Cockburn.