Chad: 'sinister' and 'brutal' crackdown on government critics - new report
65 peaceful protests blocked in two years and more than 10 critical websites banned
“Sinister role” of the Chadian security forces must be stopped
Documented use of threatening anonymous phone calls and surveillance: “calls are either silent, or someone would say ‘just try speaking and you will see’” – a human rights lawyer in Chad
Chadian security and intelligence forces are increasingly using repressive laws and cracking down on human rights activists, unionists and journalists in an attempt to silence critics, Amnesty International can reveal, in a new report published today.
Following two research missions to Chad and more than 80 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations in the country, Amnesty’s report, ‘Between recession and repression. The rising cost of dissent in Chad,’ documents how the Chadian authorities have responded to growing public discontent over the recent years with ever greater restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. At the heart of much of this repression is the National Agency for Security (ANS), which has often acted in defiance of Chadian law.
Examples of increasing restrictions by the authorities include:
- the systematic banning of peaceful demonstrations in the country since early 2016
- at least 13 ministerial decrees banning peaceful protests in 2016 alone
- the banning of social media platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook for much of 2016 ahead of the April 2016 elections, with at least 10 websites critical of the government remaining blocked until March 2017
- more than 65 associations being denied permission to organise a protest between 2014 and 2016
- unregistered social movements and platforms being declared “illegal” by the Chadian Minister of Public Security and Immigration; a measure that has been used to justify the arrest of civil society leaders such as Nadjo Kaina and Bertrand Solloh of Iyina
- high levels of reported threatening anonymous phone calls and surveillance
Alioune Tine, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director, said:
“Instead of recognising the important and entirely legitimate work of activists who take a brave stand against injustice and undertake peaceful action to improve human rights, authorities in Chad have been particularly active in enacting laws and regulations which remove the right to protest, place activists under surveillance, and targeting them with harassment, threats and physical attacks.
“Security forces and the intelligence agency are overseeing a brutal crackdown which has made criticism of government increasingly dangerous over the past two years and is now threatening to steer the country back to dark days of repression.”
An economic crisis provoked by the sharp drop in international prices of crude oil since mid-2014 has played a big part in the growing discontent in the country. The government adopted 16 austerity measures in 2016, which was socially and economically damaging in a country where 46.7% of the population live below the poverty line. Peaceful protests and opposition to these measures have resulted in the authorities responding with intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions.
Sinister role of ANS agents
The ANS’s mandate was expanded in January this year allowing its agents to target and arrest human rights defenders on the grounds of national security.
The ANS had already been illegally arresting people and detaining them in unofficial detention facilities, without allowing access to families and lawyers.
Alioune Tine said:
“This sinister role highlights the ANSs unchecked power to crackdown on human rights defenders and must be stopped. To reduce the chance of gross human rights violations and impunity occurring, the authorities must ensure there is a clear chain of accountability within the ANS and that it is subject to judicial oversight.”
Threatening phone calls and surveillance
Human rights defenders told Amnesty that they are also subjected to threatening anonymous phone calls and surveillance. Of the 45 activists interviewed by Amnesty, only two said they had never received such calls.
One human rights lawyer said:
“I would receive unidentified calls early in the morning, around five or six, and also at night. Calls are either silent, or someone would say ‘just try speaking and you will see’.”
The authorities have not denied using surveillance and the Minister of Security told Amnesty in a meeting: “You can be listened to and spied on - it's the job of security services.”
Online activists are being targeted as part of the crackdown. Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, has been detained since 30 September 2016, after having posted several videos on Facebook criticising the government’s management of public funds. Charged with undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrection movement, he awaits trial and if convicted, he could face life imprisonment.
Journalists are also paying a high price for merely doing their job. Sylver Beindé Bassandé, a journalist and director of community radio Al Nada FM in Moundou, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined £135 on 20 June 2017 for complicity in contempt of court and undermining judicial authority.
Alioune Tine said:
“Chad is at a crossroads. The authorities must choose whether they would continue to stifle political opposition and muzzle critics, or honour the promises made by President Idriss Déby upon his assumption of power.
“We call on them to amend restrictive laws regulating public gatherings, associations and the right to strike, reform the ANS, and immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.”