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Chadian protesters recount hellish ordeal in distant desert jail

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Dehydrated and whipped by scorching winds as their crowded truck snaked via the dunes, some drank urine to outlive, whereas those that died had been tossed into the Chadian desert.

After being rounded up by police over mass protests towards Chad’s navy junta in October final 12 months, a whole lot of principally younger males confronted this nightmarish two-day journey to the high-security Koro Toro jail, deep within the hostile Djurab desert.

After they arrived on the distant jail, many had been sentenced in a mass trial with out attorneys and put within the brutal cost of jihadist prisoners.

“We thought solely of dying,” mentioned Nadjilem, one among a number of prisoners, since launched, who spoke to AFP about their ordeal, utilizing pseudonyms out of worry for his or her security.

Safety forces swept up the lads earlier than and after mass protests over plans by Common Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno’s navy junta to increase its rule by two years.

The 38-year-old common took over when his father Idriss Deby Itno, who had dominated with an iron fist for 3 a long time, died in April 2021 from accidents sustained in a battle with rebels.

On October 20, the day the navy was initially alleged to cede energy, the opposition referred to as for demonstrations. A bloody crackdown ensued.

Based on an official toll, 50 folks had been killed, however opposition teams, now pressured into exile, say the toll was a lot increased.

Dubbed “Black Thursday,” it was one of many deadliest days within the historical past of the semi-desert Central African nation.

However for a whole lot of younger males, the nightmare was solely starting.

Demise and deprivation

Dieudonne, a 34-year-old development employee, advised AFP he was on his means residence from a job the evening earlier than the protest, when troopers stopped him and compelled him right into a car with different males, driving them to a vacant lot.

“That is once they began beating us,” he mentioned, his voice nonetheless shaking with terror.

He was held in a police station for 48 hours earlier than being taken to Koro Toro.

“We documented many circumstances of males who had been arrested merely for being within the unsuitable neighbourhood,” mentioned Lewis Mudge, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Africa director.

These folks “had nothing to do with the protests, but they had been taken to Koro Toro.”

The lads interviewed by AFP described the journey to Koro Toro via the Djurab desert as a hellish ordeal marked by dying and deprivation.

“We had been piled up on prime of one another within the truck,” mentioned Nadjilem, who met with AFP within the firm of Yves, a 28-year-old home painter, exterior a church within the capital N’Djamena.

In the course of the journey, “we weren’t given something to drink or eat. We stopped a number of occasions, we requested to drink from backwaters, however they refused. Some drank urine to outlive”, mentioned Yves.

A number of died alongside the way in which.

“We piled the our bodies on prime of one another. Some began decomposing within the truck. So the guards took them and threw them within the bush,” Nadjilem mentioned.

Regardless of the inhospitable atmosphere, “folks nonetheless managed to flee by leaping from the truck”, remembers Nadjilem.

“Some succeeded, however solely those that had been fortunate. The others had been shot by the guards,” he provides.

“We’re listening to that our bodies had been dumped within the bush on the way in which to Koro Toro and many individuals could have died on the detention centre. We’re nonetheless working to substantiate these particulars,” HRW’s Mudge mentioned.

‘Chadian Guantanamo’

The World Organisation Towards Torture mentioned that greater than 2,000 folks had been arrested earlier than and after the protests, however the authorities admitted solely to 621, together with 83 minors, who had been all taken to Koro Toro.

Koro Toro jail, proven on satellite tv for pc photos as an ochre stain besieged by dunes within the centre of the nation, was in-built 1996 in an uninhabited space which is troublesome to entry. It could accommodate 500 or 600 inmates and is especially a vacation spot for these serving lengthy sentences for terrorism.

Fighters with the Boko Haram and Islamic State jihadist teams are held there, incomes it the nickname of the “Chadian Guantanemo” — a nod to the infamous American navy jail.

“No prisoner can escape, they threat dying of thirst,” a former justice minister advised AFP on situation of anonymity.

These imprisoned after the protests had been saved there with out entry to their attorneys or households, a few of whom advised AFP they did not know if their youngsters had been nonetheless alive.

Tortured by jihadists

On December 11, 401 of these arrested got a mass trial over 4 days.

Prosecutors mentioned 262 had been sentenced to 2 to 3 years in jail for “unauthorised meeting,” and “disturbing public order,” amongst different crimes.

The opposite 139 had been freed, some on probation. Underage prisoners had been taken again to N’Djamena, the place they’re ready to look earlier than a youngsters’s choose.

“Folks had been arrested in unlawful circumstances, tried in unlawful circumstances,” mentioned the coordinator of a collective of protection attorneys for these arrested, Frederic Dainonet.

In Koro Toro, “we had been put in cells of 40 to 50 folks. We had been entrusted to jihadists, they had been our jailers. They beat us with iron bars”, mentioned Yves. Nadjilem backed this up, including that “jihadists from Boko Haram” had been tasked with torturing them.

“There are severe and dependable allegations of circumstances of torture in Koro Toro, a few of which have led to the dying of detainees”, mentioned Mudge, who has travelled to Chad on a number of events to analyze the occasions surrounding the protests for HRW.

The federal government spokesman, and defence ministry, didn’t reply to a number of requests for feedback on the accusations.