As reported previously on the Monitor, authorities arrested a total of 23 people, of which four CSO leaders and activists.
#Niger On 15 April, #HRD Maikoul Zodi, #HRD Abdourahamane Idé Hassane and #HRD Ibrahim Diori were arrested by police in Niamey, Niger, on charges of participating in a protest in which they did not take part. https://t.co/Ui3stut7UZ pic.twitter.com/7RPCgkDrn8— Front Line Defenders (@FrontLineHRD) 19 april 2018
As reported previously on the Monitor, authorities arrested 23 people, including four civil society leaders and activists, who were charged on 27th March with "complicity in the destruction of property, in violence and aggression" and "organisation and participation in a banned protest". Protests against the 2018 Budget Law have been ongoing since October as the law was adopted at the end of September 2017. The four are currently held in different prisons. Their defense lawyers have asserted that the procedure around the arrests was flawed.
The wave of arrests continued as civil society vowed to keep protesting against the 2018 Budget Law. Local authorities banned a protest planned for 15th April 2018 in Niamey on alleged security grounds, and prevented the protest from taking place with tear gas. Some clashes between protesters and security forces were reported. Authorities arrested another three human rights defenders later in the evening on 15th April on charges of "organisation and participation in a banned protest" and "damaging public property". The activists arrested included Ibrahim Diori of Alternative Espaces Citoyens (Alternative Citizen Spaces - AEC), Maïkoul Zodi of the collective Tournons La Page Niger (Let's Turn the Page Niger) and Abdourahamane Idé Hassane of the association Jeunesse pour une Nouvelle Mentalité (Youth for a New Mentality - JENOME), which brings the total people arrested to at least 26, all in relation to their activism and protests around the law, in less than a month.
Maïkoul Zodi of Tournons la Page Niger said to Deutsche Welle shortly before his arrest:
"We are not afraid to go to prison, we are not afraid to express our opinion. We are ready to go to prison in the name of our opinions, we are ready to defend democracy and to restore democracy in Niger, whatever happens". (translated from French)
Several civil society organistions have condemned the wave of arrests and restrictions on peaceful assembly, including Amnesty International, Tournons la Page, and the human rights defenders networks of Niger, Senegal and West Africa (RNDDH, COSEDDH and ROADDH). In a joint open letter, several civil society organisations have asked diplomatic missions in the country to condemn the civic space restrictions in the country and have called for the unconditional release of the human rights defenders.
In a separate incident on 18th April, a university campus in Niamey was closed "until further notice" after violent clashes between students and security forces took place on 17th April. The students protested against the expulsion of five students in March who were expelled after a month-long teachers strike, which started on 7th February, against alleged "aggression" from students.
While the authorities generally allow civil society to operate, NGOs find security is a concern in the north of the country because of the actions of extremist groups.
While the authorities generally allow civil society to operate, NGOs find security is a concern in the north of the country because of the actions of extremist groups. The government also uses the fight against terror to clamp down on dissenting voices, a tactic which has made the environment for civil society more difficult. In May 2015, human rights defender and Secretary General of civil society organisation Alternative Espace, Moussa Tchangari, was arrested by the anti-terror brigade after conducting a media interview concerning traditional leaders. He was arrested on suspicion of conspiring with Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria and charged with “undermining national defence”. He was later arrested for taking food to detained traditional chiefs. In May 2014, the coordinator of NGO Volontaires pour L’integration Educative was arrested and detained for over a month after speaking on a radio programme about starvation in the Oualam region. He was later released without charge. In 2015, Nouhou Azirka, President of the Movement for the Promotion of Responsible Citizenship, was arrested for “endangering national security” after he said soldiers were working under poor conditions.
Organisers of peaceful protests are required to give the authorities 48-hours’ advanced notification.
Organisers of peaceful protests are required to give the authorities 48-hours’ advanced notification. Public protests do take place in Niger but police sometimes use disproportionate force to break them up. In 2013, police violently dispersed a teachers' strike with baton charges and teargas, also arresting union leaders. The police have also been accused of poor crowd control and resorting to the use of teargas as a first measure. In 2014, students at Abdou Moumouni University who were calling for student grants were forcefully dispersed. Some deaths during protests have also resulted from the actions of the police. Due to the escalation of the security crisis, the authorities imposed a state of emergency in the Diffa region in February 2015, limiting the freedom of movement and freedom of assembly.
Niger is committed to freedom of expression through its constitution and other international agreements it has ratified, including the Table Mountain Declaration, in which it commits to creating an environment for freedom of expression to flourish.
Niger is committed to freedom of expression through its constitution and other international agreements it has ratified, including the Table Mountain Declaration, in which it commits to creating an environment for freedom of expression to flourish. In practice, however, journalists face obstacles to their work and are regularly taken to court because of what they write, although prison sentences for media offences were scrapped by law in 2010. Journalists are routinely arrested for criticising the president or accusing him of corruption. In 2015, access to social media was blocked for a few hours to silence criticism of the president’s participation in a memorial for the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. The army is also very sensitive to reporting on its activities. Also in 2015, two newspapers, L’Actualité and L’Opinion, were banned from publishing for a month for allegedly violating the journalist’s charter. In 2013, the editor of L’evenement newspaper was threatened by a senior army official after the publication of an article claiming army officials had been arrested for taking part in a botched coup attempt. In 2014, the editor of L’enqueteur newspaper was arrested and charged with conspiracy against the state after publishing an article saying the ruling party’s days were numbered. In the same year, a host on Radio Television Bonferey was arrested after airing a programme in which the president was accused of corruption. Journalists also suffer physical assaults. For instance, in 2013, journalists were attacked by security forces for covering a teachers' strike.