A court in Chad has handed out jail terms of between two and three years to more than 260 people arrested after anti-government protests in October, while defence lawyers have argued that the trial was “illegal”.
A total of 401 people were put on mass trial in Koro Toro prison, a high-security jail located in the desert 600km (375 miles) from the capital N’Djamena last week.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, public prosecutor Moussa Wade Djibrine said that 262 people were given jail sentences, 80 were given suspended terms and 59 were acquitted, the AFP news agency reported.
The trial ended on Friday after four days, with only state TV having the right to provide coverage, and the sentences were announced on Monday after the prosecutor returned to the capital.
The defendants were charged with taking part in an unauthorised gathering, destroying belongings, arson and disturbing public order.
Approximately 50 people, including 10 members of the security forces, died when police opened fire on demonstrators in N’Djamena and several other cities on October 20, according to an official toll.
But opposition groups say the real count was much higher, and allege unarmed civilians were subject to a mass killing.
Local and international NGOs, the European Union and the African Union condemned the bloody crackdown and the use of violence against civilians.
Chadian lawyers boycotted the proceedings on the grounds of the “illegal” transfer far from the public gaze for the trial. Many stopped working during and after the trial, with the Chad Bar Association calling it a “parody of justice” as the defendants were “kidnapped” and “deported” to Koro Toro, AFP reported.
The bar said it would appeal the court’s decision.
The protests had been called to mark the date when Chad’s ruling military had initially promised to cede power – a timeline that has now been extended by two years.
Strongman General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno accused the demonstrators of “insurrection” and attempting to stage a coup.
Deby, aged 38, took power when his father, Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the arid Sahel state for 30 years, died during an operation against rebels in April 2021.
The authorities had previously said that 601 people, including 83 minors, were arrested in the N’Djamena area alone and taken to Koro Toro.
About 80 minors held there have been taken back to N’Djamena, where they will remain in a prison before appearing in a special juvenile court, the prosecutor said on Monday, according to AFP.