A Catholic Bishop in Chad has confronted government officials and accused the government of culpability in killing protesters during recent violent demonstrations against the extension of military rule.
Scores were killed and hundreds wounded in violent protests that rocked several cities across the country on Oct 20.
The Bishop of Moundou Joachim Kouraleyo Tarounga told a government delegation on Oct 30: “I must tell you without mincing words that you are accountable for what happened.”
After unprecedented country-wide protests against the delay to elections and the scheduled end of military rule, the government has sent out delegations to various affected communities to try to appease the population.
The protests were sparked by an announcement from the Transitional Military Council that Chad would stay under the rule of General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno for a further two years.
One of such delegations was in Moundou, one of the most affected towns during the protests. The delegation was led by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Laoukein Medard, accompanied by the Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy, Dujerassem Le Bemadjiel and it held discussions with different actors and stakeholders, notably labour leaders, traditional rulers and religious leaders as well as the soldiers in Moundou.
Dressed in black and speaking directly to the government delegation in front of him, Bishop Tarounga, 64, lambasted the government for killing civilians exercising their civic rights of peaceful protest.
“All the propaganda missions such as the one you are leading today have but one objective: to cover the crimes committed on October 20, 2022. You have come here to call on the people to accept to live together. The people did not fight among themselves. The people do not need to be reconciled by you. Protesting cannot be equal to being killed”, the Bishop told the government delegation.
Most of the government delegation that was shocked by the declarations of the Bishop could not find their voices to reply.
However, the governor of Logone Occidental province, Ibrahim Ibni Mahamat Saleh, spoke on behalf of government.
“Honestly, I call on religious leaders, one of whom you are, to always use their wisdom and to control your anger because if you get angry, the situation will only get worse. Right now, to reflect on the complaints, appease hearts and spirits, we must pass on messages of peace so that people regain the better parts of their sentiments”, the governor said.
Bishop Tarounga has been a priest for almost 33 years, he was ordained Bishop of Moundou in 2004. Since then he has led two official visits to the Vatican to update personally each of the last two Popes on the situation in his diocese.
The government delegation also visited the wounded in the Moundou hospital.
While the government has insisted that only fifty people were killed and three hundred others wounded, human rights associations on their part, say more than one hundred people were killed and over five hundred wounded, while hundreds were arrested and “deported” to prisons outside the national capital, N’Djamena.
The International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) says most of the youths arrested were militants of Les Transformateurs political party or the Wakit Tamma citizen movement, who were eventually transported to prisons in the north of the country, especially the Koro Toro prison.
The representative of IFHR, Dobian Assingar has called on junta leader, General Mahamat Deby, to release all those arrested and detained revealing that at least one thousand five hundred persons are currently being held in detention centres throughout the country after the October 20 riots.
“The police were going from house to house, pulling down walls in some cases, and arresting and taking away people without official arrest warrants. You can see that this is completely arbitrary. This is serious. As a family head, he (the junta leader) should release those arrested in order to quell down tensions. It will be after investigations that we would know who did what. Those detained had to be presented before a judge,” the IFHR representative said.
The country’s National Commission for Human Rights has also received several complaints concerning persons said to have disappeared and suspected to be held by security forces.
“Some of these persons were deported to high security prisons such as that of Koro Toro”, declared in anger, the president of the Chadian National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Mahamat Nour Ibedou, adding that “we have accused government because it risks imprisoning innocent persons. Those persons arrested must be presented to a judge before being sent to detention centres”.
The NCHR president has called for the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate and ascertain who were the persons dressed in civilian clothing circulating in vehicles without registration numbers who shot at the crowds killing several persons on October 20, 2022.
The government on its part has explained that it was forced to “deport” arrested persons outside the capital for “logistic reasons”.
Government spokesperson, Aziz Mahamat Saleh, has admitted the government “deported” people out of the capital, promising that all those responsible for the violence and killings, be they civilians or security forces, would be brought to book.
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