Monday, March 24, 2008

Our man in N’djamena: Idriss Deby's human rights folly

Last time we checked, Chadian President Idriss Deby was still in power and rounding up opposition politicians. So what’s up today? Eight weeks after an insurgent army battled government forces inside the capital city, nearly toppling the Deby government, our man in N’djamena remains in power while opposition politicians remain in jail.

According to the Chadian group Human Rights Without Borders, at least 20 people have been detained but have not been publicly charged with any crime. This number may be artificially low because much of the country’s political opposition, members of civil society and independent journalists have fled the country in fear of reprisals by the government.

“Certainly the authorities were aggressive before the rebel attack in February,” Deuzoumbe Daniel Passalet of Human Rights Without Borders told IRIN. “But after February they became vengeful. Anyone who was suspected of supporting the rebels was arrested and sometimes their houses were demolished.”

“I fled the country after police came to my house to try to arrest me,” he added.

Less than two weeks after French troops helped push the rebels out of the capital city, the Chadian government declared a state of emergency, granting the federal government to control the media, provincial governors the power to restrict movement and security forces the power to arrest and detain people without charge. The emergency was lifted March 15, but eight people remain unaccounted for, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based human rights organization found that at a majority of the 15 prisoners originally detained under the emergency guidelines are members of the Goran ethnic group, which allegedly predominate the rebel group that recently attacked the capital city. It wasn’t the first time the Deby administration has targeted a specific ethnic group after an attempted insurgency, Human Rights Watch maintained. In 2007, members of the Tama group were “subject to arbitrary arrest and detention by government security forces” after a failed takeover attempt by a group that consisted mainly of members of the same group.

Mahamoud Adoum Aguid, the country’s former top customs official has been detained since Febraury 19. His whereabouts remains unknown. Ngarlejy Yorongar and Lol Mahamat Choua, two opposition politicians detained by police, have been released. However, the whereabouts of opposition member Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh remains unknown.

Human Rights Watch also documented the torture of at least one prisoner at the hands of security forces. Two others are thought to have been abused, the group said.

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