Undeterred by repression, civil society continued to mobilise against austerity measures
As reported in the last update, strikes and protests against austerity measures in January 2018 were met with repression by security forces in N'djamena, the Chadian capital. While most of those arrested during these protests were subsequently released, on 15th February the AFP news agency reported that 17 protesters had been sentenced to four months imprisonment for "disturbing public order, destruction of property, holding an unauthorised gathering and injuring members of the police force". Authorities in the country also suspended ten opposition parties for two months for their role in organising the protests, which had been banned earlier. The Chadian government justified its ban on public protests and gatherings on security grounds, claiming that terrorists, including those from Boko Haram which it is currently fighting, could infiltrate these public events and pose a threat to public safety.
Undeterred by the repression in January, activists continued to call for mobilisations on the streets, including a "Thursday of Anger" (Jeudi en colère) on 8th February. On 12th March, civil society organisations, trade unions and political parties called for a "Dead City Day" (or Journee Ville Morte) in the centre of Ndjamena to show support for the striking public sector workers who had had their wages reduced as part of the government's austerity plan. A report from RFI found that the call to strike was only partially successful, as many shops and businesses remained open.
On 8th March, in protest against the poor living conditions of many women in Chad, several of the same groups behind the Ville Morte turned celebrations of International Women's Day into a day of mourning. Activists said:
"We, the women's committee of the trade union platform, have decided to meet and celebrate [International Women's Day] in sobriety and meditation as a sign of mourning for the suffering we have endured for nearly two months. We are hungry and not strong enough to allow us a parade". (Translated from French)
#Activist Alain Didah from #Iyina was arrested this morning. He is detained at the #Ndjamena Commissariat Central. Why? He was allegedly seen near an old tire, holding a bottle of oil. The Police believe he was about to burn the tire. My advice: Avoid tires and bottle in #Chad— Balkissa Idé Siddo (@Balkissaide) February 19, 2018
On the morning of 19th February, authorities arrested a spokesperson from Iyina, one of Chad's most prominent social movements. Alain Didah Kemba was arrested early in the morning as he was allegedly about to burn a tyre. Balkissa Idé Siddo, a researcher with Amnesty International, condemned the arrest as arbitrary, stating that:
"The reason for the arrests raised by the police spokesman to justify this arbitrary arrest is unfounded. It is an excuse to stifle a dissident voice and discourage anyone who dares to initiate or participate in protest actions". (Translated from French)
A statement from the social movement Tournons La Page and Amnesty claimed that, while in detention, Didah had been denied access to his family and his lawyer. They also claimed that he had been "mistreated and tortured" by police during the first two days of his detention. According to Frontline Defenders, Didah's lawyers reported that Didah "had difficulty standing and that the police had kicked him on the leg joints and the soles of his feet during an interrogation".
Following intensive campaigning by rights groups, Didah was released due to health concerns on 23rd February, and finally unconditionally released on 26th February after appearing before a prosecutor. He was never charged with any crimes.
At a press conference on 22nd February, Chadian civil society organisations called for a day without mobile phones, during which no calls would be made or phone credit purchased. The action was organised in order to protest against recent increases in the cost of telecommunications in the country, which are some of the highest in Africa. Activists also sought to highlight the poor service and the unwarranted "commercial harassment" experienced by consumers through the mobile phone network in Chad.
In keeping, with the actions of others in civil society, in February the Union of Journalists in Chad called for a day without media on 21st February. This action was taken in order to show the Union's opposition to attacks against journalists and the unjustified closure of some radio stations in Chad.
Tchad: Journée sans presse. sur l'initiative de l'Union des Journalistes Tchadiens pour protester contre l'acharnement des journalistes, les interpellations contre les responsables des organes de presse... la Journée du Mercredi 21 Février est décrétée sans presse sur l'étend pic.twitter.com/y0B2gjQCYI— Jean Philippe (@JeanPhi47807834) February 19, 2018