65 associations refused authorisation for peaceful protests over the last two years.
Human rights defenders, citizens’ movements, unionists and journalists critical of the government are facing growing danger as the government increasingly uses repressive laws and the intelligence service to muzzle critics and hamper their work, Amnesty International reveals in a new report published today. ‘Between repression and recession. The rising cost of dissent in Chad’ documents how the authorities have over the recent years responded to growing public discontent, with ever greater restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“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 intelligence agency are overseeing a brutal crackdown which has made criticism of government increasingly dangerous over the past two years and now threatening to steer the country back to dark days of repression,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
Since early 2016, ahead of the April presidential election, the authorities have intensified their efforts to repress human rights. Peaceful demonstrations have been systematically banned. In 2016 alone, Amnesty International documented at least 13 ministerial decrees banning peaceful protests. More than 65 associations told Amnesty International they had not been granted permission to organise a protest between 2014 and 2016. Unregistered social movements and platforms have been declared “illegal” by the Chadian Minister of Public Security and Immigration, and this has been used to justify the arrest of civil society leaders such as Nadjo Kaina and Bertrand Solloh of Iyina.
At the heart of much of this repression is the national agency for security (ANS) which has often acted in defiance of Chadian law. 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.
“This sinister role highlights the ANS’s 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,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Human rights defenders told Amnesty International that they are also subjected to threatening anonymous phone calls and surveillance. Of the 45 activists interviewed by Amnesty International, 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 International in a meeting: “You can be listened to and spied on – it’s the job of security services”.
In 2016, ahead of the election, the government banned social media platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook for much of the year. At least 10 websites critical of the government remain blocked in the country until March 2017. Online activist 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 also sentenced to two years in prison and fined US$180 on 20 June 2017 for complicity in contempt of court and undermining judicial authority.
“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,” said Colm O’Gorman.