Six opposition leaders arrested after violent anti-French protests in N’Djamena were on Monday handed one-year suspended sentences for disturbing public order, Chad’s public prosecutor told AFP.
They were also fined 10 million CFA francs, or about 15,000 euros, said prosecutor Moussa Wade Djibrine, who had sought two-year prison terms.
The swift trial opened Monday morning at a court at Moussoro, around 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the capital, with defense lawyers boycotting the hearing amid a heavy police presence.
The case comes against a backdrop of political tension with a military junta in power following the death of the country’s veteran leader more than a year ago.
An authorized march in the capital on May 14 against France’s military presence in Chad turned violent.
Seven petrol stations belonging to the French oil major Total were attacked and 12 police officers injured, according to a police toll.
In the aftermath, the authorities carried out a string of arrests among the march organizers, who denied any responsibility for the violence.
Those charged included Max Loalngar, coordinator for Wakit Tamma, Chad’s main opposition coalition, and Gounoung Vaima Gan-Fare, secretary of the Chadian trade union federation.
The six were charged with disturbing public order and destruction of property. They had begun a hunger protest on May 23.
Trade unions, opposition political parties, armed groups and international NGOs had called for the six to be released immediately and unconditionally.
“We will appeal, a suspended sentence is still a sentence,” said Wakit Tamma’s lawyer Laguerre Ndjarandi.
“The court has been kind, it’s not a bad thing to calm things down,” communication minister Abderaman Koulamallah told AFP.
Moussoro court’s public prosecutor Abdoulaye Bono Kono later announced: “The leaders of Wakit Tamma were released after sentencing.”
Chad has been under military rule since President Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled with an iron fist for three decades, was killed in April 2021 during operations to crush rebels in the north of the country.
He was succeeded by his son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, now the transitional president.
His junta vowed to hold “free and democratic elections” within 18 months after staging a proposed nationwide “dialogue.”
A reconciliation forum should have started last month but has run into problems.
Armed groups have warned that Monday’s trial further compromises the national dialogue. The political opposition has already withdrawn from the organizing process.
France has thousands of troops in the Sahel, including in Chad, under its Barkhane mission.
But in February, Paris announced it would withdraw its troops from Mali and deploy them elsewhere after falling out with the junta in Bamako.
On May 16, Deby, reacting to the violence that had unfolded two days earlier, attacked what he called “false and unfounded allegations” that French troops would redeploy to Chad.