Intense and widespread protests against 2018 Finance Law: 4 CSO leaders arrested
Protests against the 2018 budget law have intensified since the Council of Ministers adopted the 2018 Finance Law on 25th September 2017. As reported previously on the Monitor, protests and sit-ins organised by a civil society coalition and the opposition started on 29th October 2017 over what protesters have called an antisocial law. Protesters took to the streets in the capital Niamey as well as in other cities in the country such as Zindo and Dosso on 14th January, 28th January, 4th February, 11th February, 25th February and 11th March. According to Front de l’opposition indépendante (Front of Independent Opposition), authorities arrested ten of its members during its sit-in on 4th February (see article linked above), and charged seven of them for "disturbance during the night" as the sit-in continued late into the evening. In response to the civil society-led protests, thousands of supporters of the ruling party participated in a counter protest on 4th March in support of President Issoufou Mahamadou, which was organised by the parties of the ruling presidential majority.
While the protesters vowed to protest every two weeks, and the objective of the protests broadened to include other demands such as the withdrawal of foreign military troupes in the country, local authorities banned the protest planned on 25th March, citing security concerns. According to media sources, clashes broke out between protesters and security officers as the protesters disregarded the ban, and authorities arrested 23 people on charges of "organisation and participation in an unauthorised protest" and "complicity in damages to public and private property". At least four civil society leaders were arrested, including Ali Idrissa of Rotab (Réseau des organisations pour la transparence et l'analyse budgétaire - Network for Transparency and Budgetary Analysis) and founding member of the coalition Publish What You Pay; president of the mouvement pour la promotion de la citoyenneté responsable (Movement for the Promotion of Responsible Citizenship) Nouhou Arzika; secretary-general of Alternative espace citoyen (Alternative Citizen Space) Moussa Tchangari; and lawyer Lirwana Abdourahamane. Additionally, members of the National Guard allegedly closed down TV station Labaari after one of the lawyers of Nouhou Arzika was interviewed during the evening news.
In a statement issued on 24th March, a group of civil society organisations condemned the local authorities' banning of the 25th March protest in Niamey, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua, among others, and declared:
"deep indignation to see the authorities in place invoke the security situation in the country to restrict the space of freedom to civil society organisations, thus proving that the security crisis facing the country constitutes for them a historic opportunity to establish a dictatorship, to undermine the sovereignty of the country by favoring the installation of foreign military bases and enriching themselves savagely on the backs of the people by pocketing a considerable part of the colossal financial resources destined for security expenses".
On 5th February 2018, several media outlets - radio, newspapers and television - observed a "black screen/ page day", during which they stopped broadcasting or printing their usual programmes as a "day of protest" against "the attempt to stifle freedom of the press" through physical aggression against and pressure on journalists, as well as confiscation of material and a tax audit operation by the authorities that goes back to 2014. On some television channels one could be read the statement - "No to the assassination of the independent press in Niger" - against a black background. In a statement on the state radio on 7th February, the General Directorate of Taxes refuted the claim that the audit operation is meant to stifle press freedom.
On 3rd April, authorities released journalist Baba Alpha and deported him to Mali on "security grounds". As reported previously on the Monitor, Baba Alpha and his father, both of Malian descent, were each sentenced to two years in prison, ten years of deprivation of political and civil rights, and fined 300,000 CFA (approximately 538 USD) on charges of forging documents to acquire Nigerien nationality in 2011. Both have been in detention since 4th April 2017. Alpha is a journalist for the private TV channel Bonferey and is known for his critical, anti-government reporting. He also served as a Secretary General of the Union of Information and Communication Workers.