Koro Toro, the ‘Chadian Guantanamo’ in the middle of the Sahara desert
By Blaise Dariustone
N’Djamena, Feb 3 (EFE).- In the middle of the Sahara desert, in northern Chad, stands a maximum security prison known as the “Chadian Guantanamo” and built for Boko Haram Jihadists and major criminals, but which also houses political prisoners.
The object of numerous criticisms by human rights defenders, the Koro Toro prison is a real prison located in a settlement in the Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti region that, in addition to this prison, houses an airport.
It is so impassable that in Chad it is often compared to the United States Guantanamo prison in Cuba, famous for holding accused extremists.
“In this prison there are no houses nearby. It is impossible for the prisoners to escape from this prison and save their lives,” Josue Alladoum, a soldier and former Koro Toro guard, told EFE.
“No one has ever escaped from this prison and has crossed this entire desert on foot. You have to walk on sand for hundreds of kilometers without drinking water to reach a city. Therefore, all prisoners who try to escape from this prison die on the way,” Alladoum said.
The prison is located about 600 kilometers north of N’Djamena, the capital, and according to the authorities, most of the inmates are members of Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram (which operates in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon) and criminals who have committed serious crimes.
The prison, which began operating in 2003 and with which it is impossible to communicate except through military high-frequency (HF) radios or satellite phones, houses some 700 prisoners, former Justice and Human Rights Minister Djimet Arabi told EFE.
“It is a prison that was built to lock up highwaymen and terrorists. This is the concern that guided the government to build this prison away from the population,” Arabi said.
However, for some years now, this prison has also received political prisoners, a fact that became evident after the demonstrations on Oct. 20, 2022, violently repressed by security forces, causing the death of at least 50 people, close to 300 injured and 621 arrests, according to official figures.
Of those detainees, a total of 401 appeared on charges of “unarmed assembly and rebellion” before the N’Djamena Magistrate Court in hearings held between Nov. 29 and Dec. 2 from Koro Toro, where the defendants were located.
Chad sentenced 262 young people to prison terms of two and three years and 80 to suspended sentences of between 12 and 24 months; 59 were found not guilty and released “for the benefit of the doubt” and 80 minors were released on provisional although “not final” release.
The situation has been denounced by several human rights organizations, such as the Association for the Reintegration of Children and the Defense of Human Rights.
Its coordinator, Madjirangar Alkoua, told EFE about the seriousness of the situation in relation to these 80 minors because their transfer to Koro Toro “does not respect any norm, any law of the republic.”
“Koro Toro prison was built for major criminals, but these children were deported there without being proven guilty. These children are traumatized, they told us that on the way from N’Djamena to Koro Toro, in a vehicle, 19 people had died, Alkoua added.
The released youths claim to have suffered humiliating and degrading treatment during their stay in this prison.
“They kidnapped us and tortured us. They put us in Site 1, with those commonly known as Boko Haram, and we lived like animals,” Baissana Wineknga, one of the young men released, told EFE.
“However, they beat us when necessary. They insulted us and even put chains on our feet. What marked me was the lack of water and food,” the man said.
According to the testimonies of numerous former detainees, some of them would have died while in detention.
“We spent two days without eating or drinking water. Some had died of hunger and thirst,” Jean, a young opposition activist who was also released, told EFE.