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Interview: Chadian Blogger and Journalist Expelled from Senegal to Guinea

[All links forward to French-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

Senegalese authorities have expelled Chadian journalist and blogger Makaila Nguebla, an opponent of his country's President Idriss Déby [en] who has ruled Chad for more than two decades, to neighboring Guinea after refusing to grant him political refugee status.

Nguebla, who was living in exile in Senegal's capital city of Dakar since 2005, was deported on May 8, 2013. He settled in Senegal after being arrested in Tunisia in 2005; thanks to international pressure, Tunisian authorities did not deport him back to Chad, as he explains in this YouTube video:

Global Voices had the opportunity to interview Nguebla by phone after he was expelled. He began by telling the story of his transfer to Conakry, the capital city of Guinea:

Mes ennuis ont commencé le lendemain du départ du ministre de la Justice tchadien Jean-Bernard Padaré au Sénégal où il était venu rencontrer les autorités en vue du procès de l’ancien président tchadien Hissène Habré. Jean-Bernard Padaré a rencontré le ministre de la justice et chef de l’état sénégalais seul sans la présence d’aucun autre officiel tchadien. Il a quitté Dakar le dimanche 5 mai. Le lundi 6 mai, la Division de la surveillance du territoire sénégalaise (DST) me convoque pour le mardi 7 mai à 15H. Je me rends à la convocation en présence d’Amnesty International Sénégal à qui il est demandé de quitter les lieux. Je reste donc seul avec eux.
Ils me mettent dans un avion pour Conakry dans la nuit du mardi au mercredi. Une « maman » me voyant pleurer durant le vol me prend sous son aile : elle m’aide à passer les formalités de police une fois à Conakry – les autorités sénégalaises n’avaient pas informé leurs homologues guinéens. Je suis actuellement logé chez cette dame dans les mêmes conditions que les Guinéens : coupures d’électricité le soir et connexion internet avec une clé qui marche à peine.

Makaila Nguebla (MNG): My troubles began the day after Chadian Minister of Justice Jean-Bernard Padaré left Senegal where he had come to meet the authorities in connection with the trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré. Jean-Bernard Padaré had a private talk with the minister of justice and the Senegalese head of state without the presence of any other Chadian official. He left Dakar on Sunday, May 5. Monday, May 6, the Surveillance Division of Senegal summoned me to their offices for Tuesday, May 7 at 3 p.m. I went to the appointment accompanied by members of Amnesty International Sénégal who were asked to leave. Therefore, I remained alone with them. They put me on a plane to Conakry on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday. A “Mama” who saw me crying during the flight took me under her wing. She helped me through the police formalities once we arrived in Conakry–the Senegalese authorities had not informed their Guinean counterparts of my arrival. I am currently staying with this lady and I live in the same conditions as the Guinean people: power cuts in the evening and Internet connection with a key that barely works.

Global Voices (GV): How would you explain that Senegal, who has never expelled any political protesters, gave in so easily on something that looks like pressure from the Chadian authorities?

Makaila Nguebla : Le conflit au Mali a donné une nouvelle autorité à Idriss Deby, notamment parce que l’armée tchadienne est la seule à connaître parfaitement le terrain et la seule des armées africaines à être en mesure de soutenir effectivement l’armée française. De plus, grâce à l’argent du pétrole tchadien, Idriss Deby a pu contribuer au financement de la campagne de Macky Sall au Sénégal. Dans les négociations sur le dossier Hissène Habré, il est demandé que l’on me livre aux autorités tchadiennes. J’ai été arrêté en Tunisie en 2005 je ne dois qu’à la pression internationale de ne pas avoir été expulsé vers le Tchad.

MNG: The conflict in Mali [en] has given Idriss Deby a new weight, especially due to the fact that the Chadian army is the only one to perfectly know the ground and the only African army able to effectively support the French army. In addition, due to the money earned with the Chadian oil, Idriss Deby was able to support financially [Senegal President] Macky Sall‘s [en] campaign when he was running for president. During the negotiations on the Hissène Habré case, it was requested that I should be handed to the Chadian authorities. I was arrested in Tunisia in 2005. I owe it to international pressures that I wasn't deported back to Chad.

GV: Do you feel safe in Guinea?

Makaila Nguebla : Non. J’ai rencontré le Ministre des droits de l’homme de la Guinée qui m’a dit qu’il ne peut pas garantir ma sécurité dans le contexte actuel de son pays. Depuis plusieurs années, la Guinée traverse une période difficile. Les élections législatives n’ont pu se tenir après les dernières élections présidentielles. Et il y a depuis plusieurs semaines des manifestations de l’opposition.

MNG: No. I met with the Guinean Minister of Human Rights and he told me that he could not guarantee my safety in the current context of his country. For several years now, Guinea has been in a dire situation. The general elections could not be held following the last presidential election. And there have been opposition protests [en] for several weeks now.

GV: You told me earlier that you are staying with the lady that you met on the plane. But where do you stand when it comes to your administrative status with the Guinean authorities?

Makaila Nguebla : Ce matin [samedi 11 mai], accompagné de membres du Conseil National des Organisations de la Société Civile Guinéenne et du HCR, j’ai pu introduire une première demande de statut de réfugié.

MNG: On Saturday, May 11, escorted by some members of the National Council of Organizations of the Guinean Civil Society and of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I was able to proceed with an initial application for political refugee status.

Meanwhile, the Senegalese blogosphere called for Nguebla's return to Senegal, especially on Twitter under the hashtag #FreeMakaila. Cheikh Fall, the blogger behind citizen media monitor Sunu2012, rallied behind Nguebla:

Non seulement ceci constitue une atteinte aux droits de Makaila Nguebla qui n’a aucune attache en Guinée et s’est construit sa vie au Sénégal depuis 8 ans, mais ceci est une atteinte à la liberté d’expression de tous les Sénégalais : si les autorités commencent à livrer des opposants aux régimes dictatoriaux, elles n’hésiteront pas à s’en prendre à leurs propres opposants sur n’importe quel prétexte.

Not only is this a violation of Makaila Nguebla’s rights who has no tie to Guinea and has built his life in Senegal for the past eight years, but this is an attack on freedom of speech for all Senegalese: if the Senegalese authorities are starting to deliver opponents to their dictatorial regimes, they will not hesitate to go after their own opponents under any pretext.

The Senegalese government issued a statement three days after Nguebla was expelled through its spokesman, saying:

Sa présence était simplement tolérée. Mais sous certaines conditions : qu'il s'abstienne de faire un certain nombre de choses et de déclarations que le gouvernement sénégalais estime contraires à sa volonté de vivre chez nous.

His presence was merely tolerated. But under certain conditions, to refrain from doing a number of things and statements that the Senegalese government considers contrary to his desire to live among us.

African Twitter users quickly responded. Fall (@cypher007) noted:

@cypher007: « Situation irrégulière, Présence tolérée sous conditions … » Depuis quand un statut pareil existe au #Sénégal?

@cypher007: “irregular situation, presence tolerated under certain conditions …” Since when does such a statute exist in #Senegal?

User “wirriyamu2011″ (@wirr2011) theorized in a series of nine tweets that the Senegalese government has deliberately unsettled Nguebla for eight years in order to be able to pressure him if necessary.

BBC journalist Yacouba Ouédraogo (@Bambyam) replied to one of those tweets, referencing former leader of Chad Hissène Habré, whose rule was characterized by widespread atrocities but was allowed to live in Senegal for years after he was deposed:

@Bambyan: Quand on a offert le gîte à Habré et à mains ensanglantées, on peut continuer à “tolérer” un parleur.

@Bambyan: If you offered Habré a shelter despite the blood on his hands, you can go on “tolerating” a talker.

Several Twitter users also noted that the government spokesman [en] ironically holds the position of Minister of Good Governance and that this former journalist who had been abused under former President Wade is reduced to defend shameful practices.

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