Grief and anger in Chad over deadly protest crackdown

Relatives demand justice as rights groups call for thorough investigation of deaths during opposition protests.

N’Djamena, Chad – Surrounded by other mourning women, Grace Garandi breaks down in loud, uncontrollable sobs.

Her 17-year-old brother, Sinna, is one of at least five people killed in Chad during protests this week against the military’s takeover in the wake of longtime President Idriss Deby’s sudden death some 10 days ago.

The teenager’s family says he was only a spectator watching a confrontation between protesters and security forces in the capital, N’Djamena.

“Shots rang out. A bullet broke his arm and then it went through his stomach. As he fell, gas canisters were also fired into the crowds. He was rushed to hospital, that’s where he died,” says Garandi, crouching on the floor at the family home.

“They killed my brother, they may as well just have killed me too.”

Demonstrators took to the streets of N’Djamena and elsewhere on Tuesday, a week after the military announced Deby had died of wounds he suffered while visiting troops battling rebels opposing his 30-year rule. Deby’s 37-year-old son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, was swiftly announced as his successor.

Chad’s political opposition has condemned the establishment of a transitional military council with Deby at the helm as a coup, while civil society groups have called for more demonstrations despite a ban by the military council.

Tuesday’s crackdown on protesters led to four deaths in N’Djamena and one in the southern town of Moundou, according to authorities, while opposition activists put the toll at nine.

Dozens of people were also arrested, with many of them saying they were just bystanders.

“I was waiting for a motorbike. Suddenly two soldiers appeared and arrested me,” said Francois. “They searched me and took my phone and bottle of water. They said the bottle of water was a sign I was a protester. They beat me up and dumped me, and then I was beaten up again. After questioning, I was handed to another group, where I had even more severe beatings.”

The excessive use of force by security forces prompted criticism from Chad’s allies, including former colonial power France, and calls for investigations.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who attended Deby’s funeral last week, said he “emphatically condemned the repression of the demonstrations and the violence that took place this morning in Ndjamena”.

In an apparent shift of his position after earlier supporting the transitional military council, Macron also called for a civilian unity government to lead Chad until elections are held within 18 months.

“I am in favour of a peaceful, democratic, inclusive transition, I am not in favour of a succession plan,” said Macron. “France will never support those who pursue such a project.”

Meanwhile, rights groups called for a probe into the violent crackdown on protesters.

“We urge authorities to launch impartial and independent investigations into the circumstances of these deaths and bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible for unlawful killing,” said Marceau Sivieude, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa deputy director.

“Authorities must ensure people can safely exercise their right to peaceful assembly. No one should face arrest for simply exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and all those detained for that reason should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Source: Al Jazeera