Chad's president signs pardon for 380 rebels sentenced to life in prison

Chad REUTERS - Oredje Narcisse
MAR 26, 2023 LISTEN
REUTERS - Oredje Narcisse

A group of 380 rebels handed life sentences over the 2021 death of former ruler Idriss Deby Itno have been pardoned, a statement from the president's office said Saturday.

More than 400 rebels had been sentenced Tuesday following a mass trial for "acts of terrorism, mercenarism, recruitment of child soldiers and assaulting the head of state".

The trial had opened last month behind closed doors at Klessoum prison, 20 kilometres southeast of the capital N'djamena.

But a statement Saturday from the office of transitional president General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, one of the former ruler's sons, said 380 had received a presidential pardon.

Contacted by AFP, one of the lawyers for the defendants, Francis Lokoulde, spoke of his "relief" at the news.

The exiled head of the country's main rebel group FACT, Mahamat Mahdi Ali, who was tried and convicted along with 55 other members of the organisation, was not included in the pardon, he added.

Government spokesperson Aziz Mahamat Saleh said Deby's decision for clemency coincided with the Muslims' holy month of Ramadan.

"It is, in my opinion, a strong act, one that has an important symbolism for the Chadian nation, to really allow to be able to rebuild on new bases," he said.

Offensive in the north

In early 2021, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), launched an offensive on the north of the country from bases in Libya.

On 20 April, the army announced that the elder Deby Itno, Chad's ruler for the previous three decades, had died from wounds sustained in the fighting.

His death was announced just a day after he had been declared victor of a presidential election that gave him a sixth term in office.

He was immediately succeeded by his son at the head of a 15-member military junta.

While General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno promised to hold democratic elections after 18 months – which would have fallen in October 2022 –  he announced that a vote would not be held for another two years. 

This lead to violent anti-government protests in which at least 60 people died, hundreds were arrested.

The main leaders of Chad's opposition now live in hiding or in exile, even though the junta lifted a suspension of several opposition parties in January.