Chad: Release of online activist following global campaign must signal end of repression of dissidents

The release of an online activist following a major global campaign should be a first step towards ending the repression of dissident voices in Chad, Amnesty International said today.
A court in the capital city N’Djamena yesterday ordered the release of Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, who had been detained since 30 September 2016, after simply having posted several videos on Facebook criticizing the government’s management of public funds.
“We are delighted that Mahadine has been released and will finally be reunited with his loved ones after spending over 18 months in prison on trumped up charges,” said Balkissa Ide Siddo, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.
“More than half a million people from across the world signed letters and petitions calling for Mahadine’s release, and they too will be delighted to know that he is finally free.”
Mahadine had originally been charged with undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrectional movement. If he had been convicted he could have faced life imprisonment.
However, in March 2018, these charges were dropped and replaced with the much lesser charge of defamation. Following this requalification, the court recognized that he had long passed the limit for preventative detention and ordered his release. He will appear again before the court on 19 April but should remain free as defamation cannot be punished with imprisonment under Chadian law.
After being arrested on 30 September 2016, Mahadine was held for three days at a facility run by the National Security Agency (Agence National de Sécurité, ANS), where he was denied visits from his family or lawyer. During this time he was tortured, beaten up and subjected to electric shocks. He was then held in several facilities including the prison in Moussoro, from which he was transferred to Amsinene prison in Ndjamena on 21 February 2018.
Mahadine was one of 10 prisoners of conscience who were highlighted as part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign in 2017. Over 690,000 actions were taken from people across the globe for his immediate release. They had also called, pending his release, for his transfer to the Amsinene prison in Ndjamena, to be closer to his family.
Mahadine is one of dozens of human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists in Chad who have been arbitrarily arrested in recent years for criticizing the government. In September 2017 Amnesty International launched a report highlighting the sustained increase in repression since both the 2015 presidential elections and the introduction of severe austerity measures to combat the country’s sharp economic crisis.
“It is good news that Mahadine has finally been freed, but real and lasting change in Chad will mean reforming laws and practices to ensure that no one can be arrested simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said Balkissa Ide Siddo.
“The Chadian authorities must also put an end to torture, including by immediately investigating allegations that ANS agents beat Mahadine and subjected him to electric shocks while he was in detention.”