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Chad's 262 protesters jailed after bloody crackdown

Chad's 262 protesters jailed after bloody crackdown
A general view of the High Court in N'Djamena on 5 December 2022   -  
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A court in a high-security desert prison in Chad has sentenced 262 people arrested during a bloody anti-regime protest in October to two to three years in prison after a mass trial behind closed doors with no lawyers and no independent media.

Some 80 others, out of 401 people on trial - mostly young demonstrators - were given one to two years' suspended prison sentences, and 59 were acquitted, N'Djamena's public prosecutor, Moussa Wade Djibrine, told reporters on Monday.

The trial lasted four days and ended on Friday, but as only state television was allowed to attend, in the absence of any other media, the prosecutor did not make the judgment public until three days later, on his return to the capital on Monday.

On 20 October 2022, around fifty people - mostly young demonstrators shot dead - died, mainly in N'Djamena, when the police opened fire on the slightest attempt at a rally.

They were responding to the call of the opposition against the extension of General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno's rule for two years. He had been proclaimed head of state by the military on 20 April 2021 following the death of his father, President Idriss Déby Itno, who was killed at the front by rebels after ruling Chad with an iron fist for 30 years.

- Mass trial -

The government had acknowledged the arrest of 601 people in N'Djamena alone - including 83 minors - and their transfer to the high-security prison of Koro Toro. The transitional president Mahamat Déby had accused them of having wanted to lead an "insurrection" and an attempted "coup d'état".

Those convicted on Friday were found guilty of "unauthorised assembly, destruction of property, arson, violence and assault and disturbance of public order", according to the prosecutor.

The mass trial took place in the prison of Koro Toro, 600 km northeast of the capital, an "illegal" procedure according to the lawyers who decided not to attend.

Amnesty International had denounced on Friday "a trial behind closed doors which raises serious concerns about respect for the right to a fair trial (...) the right to prepare one's defence (...) the right to a public trial (...) and the right to information" of the public, "rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Chad is a party".

- Excessive use of violence" -

The Bar Association went on strike throughout the country before the opening and for the duration of the trial, denouncing the "arbitrariness and injustice" of a "parody of a trial". He announced on Monday a resumption of the pleadings from Tuesday and their intention to appeal.

Of the 600 people arrested during and after the demonstration in N'Djamena, the cases of more than 200 are still under investigation by investigating judges, including 80 minors repatriated from Koro Toro to N'Djamena, the prosecutor said Monday.

After the bloody demonstrations, the opposition - whose main leaders are now in hiding or in exile -, local and international NGOs, as well as part of the international community, led by the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), strongly condemned the excessive use of violence "against civilians".

On Monday, the government announced the lifting of the state of emergency declared in N'Djamena and some other cities on the evening of 20 October.

On 20 April 2021, Mahamat Déby, a young 37-year-old general, was proclaimed President of the Republic at the head of a junta of 15 generals and had promised to hand over power to civilians through elections after a "transition" of 18 months.

But he extended his presidency on the recommendation of a "National Reconciliation Dialogue" boycotted by the vast majority of the political opposition and several of the most important armed rebel groups.

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