Nairobi — The Senegalese government's expulsion of the Chadian blogger and journalist Makaila Nguebla is a blow to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today.
On May 7, 2013, Senegalese authorities questioned Nguebla about his blogs and correspondence with a Chadian journalist arrested in a recent crackdown in Chad. Then they summarily expelled him to Guinea. Nguebla had frequently criticized the Chadian government in his writing.
"Nguebla's expulsion is disappointing in an open and democratic country like Senegal," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We are particularly concerned that Nguebla's treatment seems to be related to the recent crackdown in Chad."
Nguebla told Human Rights Watch that he was told to report to the Senegalese intelligence agency (Direction de la surveillance du territoire, DST) on the morning of May 7, where officers informed him that he was suspected of inciting Chadians to overthrow President Idriss Déby Itno. His blog that day had criticized the Chadian government for alleged arbitrary arrests and persecution of the opposition. "Idriss Déby must resign" he concluded.
Nguebla, who has been living in Senegal since 2005, said that he was also questioned about recent appearances on Senegalese radio and articles he wrote on his failed attempts to secure refugee status in Senegal.
The authorities also confronted him with copies of emails he had exchanged with the Chadian journalist Eric Topona, acting secretary general of the national union of Chadian journalists, who was arrested in Chad on May 6 and charged with seeking to undermine the constitution. Topona had been shown the same emails during his interrogation in Chad. Nguebla had blogged about Topona's arrest the day before he was expelled.
On May 3, the Chadian justice minister, Jean Bernard Padaré, who has been the subject of some of Nguebla's harshest criticisms, was in Dakar and met with the Senegalese president, Macky Sall.
Nguebla told Human Rights Watch that after being questioned, he was told that he would be expelled to Chad or to Mali. He objected that he would be persecuted in Chad and feared that the presence of Chadian soldiers in Mali would place him in danger. He was then taken to the airport in handcuffs and put on a plane to Guinea, where he has no friends or relatives.
Although a Chad national, Nguebla is de facto stateless. Fearing persecution on grounds of his political opinion, he is unable and unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the Chadian government and does not possess a valid Chadian passport. The Senegalese authorities had not recognized Nguebla as a refugee, but he is entitled to protection under international human rights law and had been living in Senegal for more than seven years. He should have been afforded due process, including a hearing before an independent tribunal, to ensure that his rights were respected and to determine the legality of any forced removal.
Under article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Senegal is a party, a non-national legally admitted in a country may only be expelled by virtue of a decision taken in accordance with the law.
The Senegalese authorities should have an independent body review the grounds and manner of Nguebla's expulsion, Human Rights Watch said. It also should consider his readmission to Senegal, where he had to abandon his home and all his personal possessions.
On May 1, the government of Chad announced that it had foiled an attempt to "destabilize the institutions of the Republic." In the week that followed, authorities arrested members of parliament, two generals, a former university rector , and two prominent journalists. They were later charged with seeking to undermine the constitution.