Nadjo Kaïna Palmer and Bertrand Solloh: Same voice, same fight for the respect of human rights in Chad

One started his activism with the Union of Young Christians of Chad while the other was advocating for the respect of students’ rights. Their paths crossed at the National Union of Chadian Students (UNET) where they defended the rights of students. Their activism is now focused on the ‘’Iyina’’ movement. The two activists, 28-year-old Nadjo and 29-year-old Bertrand, have been on almost identical journeys and together they withstand pressure, arbitrary arrests, secret detentions and, in spite of it all, continue their fight for the respect of human rights in Chad.

With a red hat donned and an amused smile on his face, 28-year-old Nadjo Kaina Palmer does not know what it is like to be a carefree and privileged youth. This is with good reason – his fight against injustice in his country, Chad, and his obsession with defending the voice of the voiceless started when he was 19 years old.

Armed with the power of his conviction, Nadjo was elected Executive Secretary of the Union of Young Christians of Chad in 2008. Two years later, he joined the N’Djamena Rotaract Club, a community service organization that brings together young people between the ages of 18 and 30.

I am not scared of saying what I think

Nadjo Kaina, Chadian activist

Having sat the air force entrance exam in 2010, Nadjo won an aviation scholarship, but found the name of another person on the list instead of his. That did not crush his spirit however, and he decided to enrol at the University of Moundou, the second largest town in Chad. This gave him the opportunity to defend students’ rights. “I am not scared of saying what I think”, said Nadjo, who later became the Chairman of the National Union of Chadian Students (UNET) in 2015.

Through UNET, Nadjo met Bertrand Solloh, who was a student at the University of N’Djamena in the Chadian capital. When Nadjo was arrested for the first time in August 2015, Bertrand was at the frontline campaigning for his release. Nadjo, who had been charged with disturbing public order, forgery and the use of forged documents, was freed during his trial that same year.

After the struggle to secure his colleague’s freedom, Bertrand was expelled from university in late 2015 even though he had successfully completed four out of the five required modules. “That is the price one pays for activism,” he said later, explaining the reasons for his expulsion.

On 15 April 2016, Bertrand Solloh was arrested by ANS agents on his way to meet a journalist
On 15 April 2016, Bertrand Solloh was arrested by ANS agents on his way to meet a journalist

After being expelled from university, the two activists, together with other young people, created the “Iyina” movement in December 2015, which in Arabic means “We are tired”. Since the creation of the movement, they have suffered “financial asphyxiation” aimed at making them more vulnerable so they switch sides. They have received threats and have been put under surveillance by the National Security Agency (ANS).

On 15 April 2016, Bertrand Solloh was arrested by ANS agents on his way to meet a journalist. Nadjo was then also arrested. At a press conference, he had issued a call for an “Iyina” day to “denounce poor governance, impunity and humiliation”. They were detained together in secret without access to their lawyers and families. During their detention at the ANS, Nadjo Kaina Palmer and Bertrand Solloh were mistreated, tortured by suffocation with plastic bags containing pepper and by being sprayed in the face with water at high pressure causing the sensation of drowning. The state prosecutor charged them with “attempted conspiracy” and “provocation by means of a gathering”. They were handed six-month suspended prison sentences.

However, that has not deterred Nadjo and Bertrand from continuing their fight. Side by side they continue to state loud and clear that demanding justice and freedom is not a crime in Chad or anywhere else. “If we leave Chad one day it will perhaps be to go and study [at university], but not to escape,” they said defiantly.