(New York) – The Chadian authorities are detaining several members of civil society organizations in pre-trial detention following the May 14, 2022 protests, to press for a peaceful transition to civilian rule. Some of the protests have turned violent, prompting authorities to press charges against the organizers.
The protests were organized in the capital, N’Djamena, and other towns across the country by Chadian civil society organizations united under the Wakit Tamma coalition (The time has come, in Chadian Arabic). The protesters said they were seeking “a transition to civilian rule” and denounced France’s perceived support for the transitional military authorities.
“The Chadian authorities must immediately release the six members and supporters of Wakit Tamma and drop all charges against them,” said Samira Daoud, Regional Director of Amnesty International. “Rather than blaming the organizers of the demonstration, the authorities should remember that they are responsible for ensuring the safety of people and public order during demonstrations, using force in a manner consistent with the principles of use of force.”
Security Minister Idriss Dokony Adiker said protests had turned violent in some places with at least seven gas stations looted. Between May 14 and 17, authorities placed six Wakit Tamma members and supporters in “preventive detention” at Klessoum prison in N’Djamena. According to their lawyers, on May 20, 2022, the six were illegally transferred to Moussoro prison, 300 km from N’djamena. The prosecutor announced that the six people faced charges of “gathering to disturb public order, damage to property and physical assault”. Their trial is due to begin on June 6.
Those detained are Gounoung Vaima Ganfare, secretary general of the Union of Trade Unions of Chad (UST); Koudé Mbaïnaïssem, lawyer at the Bar of Chad; Hissène Massar Hissène, President of the Gathering of Civil Society Executives; Allamine Adoudou, former ambassador to Egypt; Youssouf Korom, Secretary General of the Trade Union of Chadian Suppliers); and Max Loalngar, lawyer, spokesperson for Wakit Tamma and former president of a major human rights organization called Chadian Human Rights League).
The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by national, regional and international laws, in particular Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which Chad ratified in 1986.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa provide that the state is responsible for security and safety during protests and that organizers of a peaceful demonstration cannot be held responsible for acts committed by third parties during the demonstration.
These latest arrests illustrate the difficulty civil society and opposition groups face in exercising the right to peaceful assembly in Chad, the organizations said. Since military authorities took power in April 2021, they have repeatedly cracked down on opposition and dissenting voices, including violently dispersing peaceful protests.
In April and May 2021, security forces killed at least 16 people during opposition-led protests in N’Djamena and across the country. On October 2, riot police and gendarmes fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters gathered for a demonstration led by Wakit Tamma, injuring up to 45 people. No member of the security forces implicated in rights violations has been held accountable.
On May 7, 2021, Souleyman Abakar Adam, the Minister of Public Security and Immigration, issued a press release disseminating the regulations on the right to peaceful assembly in Chad. The press release specifies that the organizers of a demonstration must seek authorization from the authorities five days in advance and specify an itinerary. Members of civil society organizations have repeatedly told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that authorities often only issue permits the day before the event.
“This restriction on the freedom of assembly is contrary to international law, which specifies that people planning peaceful protests only have to notify the authorities, not to obtain authorization,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior researcher on Central Africa to Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should allow peaceful protests as part of the democratic process and ensure accountability when security forces use excessive force during protests.
On April 20, 2021, a transitional military council took power in Chad following the death of President Idriss Deby. The council is headed by General Mahamat Idriss Deby, son of the former president. A transition charter was adopted on April 21, 2021, setting an 18-month limit for the transition, renewable once.
New demonstrations planned by Wakit Tamma for May 28, 2022, with the same demands as the one organized on May 14 for were forbidden by the Minister of Security and Immigration on May 27, 2022, for reasons of public order.