Victims of Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habre fear that his recently granted prison furlough could set the stage for a full release, one their lawyers said Tuesday.
The 78-year-old was jailed in Senegal in 2016 over abuses committed during years of iron-fisted rule in Chad, but his supporters have stepped up a campaign for his release over the past year.
On Monday, a judge in Senegal’s capital Dakar granted Habre two months of prison leave over coronavirus fears, sparking concerns about an eventual release.
Habre seized power in the semi-desert country in 1982, fleeing to Senegal in 1990 after he was in turn overthrown.
Some 40,000 people are estimated to have been killed under his rule in the former French colony.
The ex-dictator was eventually arrested, then convicted in 2016 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, at an African Union-backed trial in Dakar, where he is serving his sentence.
On Tuesday, one of the lawyers who represented Habre’s victims told AFP that the ex-dictator’s supporters had for the past year waged a concerted campaign to secure his full release.
“The concern is that this could be a disguised release,” said Reed Brody, the human rights lawyer.
While the government has “stated very clearly” that Habre will return to prison, Brody added, the fear is that the ex-dictator could use his wealth to up the ante in his release campaign.
A judge on Monday granted 60 days of leave to Habre, after his lawyer argued that the septuagenarian’s age left him particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
Habre is currently under house arrest at his home in Ouakam, a district in Dakar, until he returns to prison.
Senegal has recorded 237 cases of coronavirus to date, with two deaths.