Chad denies claims 44 Boko Haram suspects suffocated to death

AFP New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 29, 2020, 11.35 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

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Officials at one point said the men had committed mass suicide and that traces of poison had been found in their bodies.

Chad's government on Monday denied allegations that 44 men who died in a prison in April were not Boko Haram jihadists but civilians who suffocated in a scorching, overcrowded cell.

The government of the semi-desert nation, insisted the prisoners were members of the Nigerian Islamist group that has staged attacks in several sub-Saharan countries.

On Saturday, the Chadian Convention for Human Rights (CTDDH), said the 58 men imprisoned were "farmers and villagers who were arbitrarily arrested ... on last-minute instructions."

The CTDDH said 44 of 58 prisoners died after being held in a windowless cell measuring 6 metres by 3 metres (19 feet by 10 feet).

Despite temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), they were not given food or water, it said. 

But Justice Minister Djimet Arabi told AFP on Monday: "We will not give credence to a report that does not correspond to reality at all." 

Officials at one point said the men had committed mass suicide and that traces of poison had been found in their bodies.

But the CTDDH said the Chadian authorities had committed several "exactions" and routinely executed Boko Haram suspects.

All the men were captured during a major army operation around Lake Chad launched by President Idriss Deby Itno early in April.

That operation came in response to the deaths of 98 Chadian soldiers in a March 23 attack on a base at Bohoma, in the Lake Chad marshlands -- the worst one-day loss their army has ever suffered.

President Idriss Deby Itno said Boko Haram militants were chased out of the country in the operation carried out between March 31 and April 8.

A Chadian army spokesman said at least 52 soldiers and 1,000 jihadists were killed during the operation.