The Chadian government has continued to detain an unknown number of people without charges since rebels invaded the capital N’djamena for two days in early February, despite lifting a state of emergency on 15 March.
"Detainees should be released immediately or charged with a crime and accorded all their rights, including immediate access to a lawyer and a hearing before an impartial judge to determine the lawfulness of their detention,” Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s Africa Director Georgette Gagnon said in a statement issued on 20 March.
“At least eight individuals, and possibly many more, remain in custody,” she said.
The head of a local Chad human rights group Human Rights Without Borders (DHSF), Deuzoumbe Daniel Passalet, said the number of detainees is at least 20 and that many members of the opposition as well as apolitical citizens have fled the country out of fear of being arrested.
“The situation has deteriorated markedly since February,” Passalet told IRIN from Cameroon, where he had recently fled.
“Certainly the authorities were aggressive before the rebel attack in February,” he said. “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.
HRW said it had received numerous reports of arbitrary arrests from credible sources in Chad and Cameroon, but that some of the reports could not be verified, “often because former detainees, family members and eyewitnesses declined to be interviewed for fear of government persecution”.
It also has evidence of soldiers torturing and ill-treating those taken into custody, including one case in which, “soldiers beat the detainee with electrical cables that left open wounds, which were examined by Human Rights Watch”.
“The Chadian government is using the recent coup attempt as a pretext to arbitrarily arrest people who have no apparent connection to the insurgency,” HRW said.
Eleven of the 15 cases of apparent arbitrary detention documented by the group are members of the Goran ethnic group, “raising concerns that the government is targeting people for arrest at least in part on account of their ethnicity.”
The Goran predominate in the Chadian rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, (UFDD) which led the attack in February.
HRW said that members of Chad’s Tama ethnic group were subject to arbitrary arrest and detention in the wake of an April 2006 attack on N’djamena by the predominantly Tama rebel United Front for Change (FUC).
Chad has also been widely condemned for detaining three opposition leaders. Two have been released, while a third, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, is still unaccounted for.
Passalet of DHSF said it is generally believed that he died in custody. HRW said that Chadian authorities must be made “fully accountable” for his whereabouts.
Rights groups also accuse the security forces of committing other abuses in February while conducting house-to-house searches for rebels and goods that were looted during the February coup attempt. “Soldiers searched homes without warrants and stole and extorted money and other valuables during these searches,” HRW said, adding that it “documented the rape of two women by soldiers”.
The Chadian government says it has set up a commission of inquiry to look into the events that occurred during and after the rebel attack. HRW said that the commission “is not in line with international standards” because it lacks independence and credibility and is headed by the president of the Chadian National Assembly, a close ally of President [Idriss] Déby.
HRW called on France, the United States, China, and the European Union to press the Chadian government to release or charge all of those subjected to arbitrary detention.