Five activists charged with "illegal assembly" for event on the occasion of Human Rights Day
#Niger : Les membres de @tlpniger arrêtés vendredi 10 décembre à Niamey en marge de la caravane pour la démocratie ainsi que @MatPourchier sont libres ce soir. Merci pour la mobilisation. @RFIAfrique @TournonsLaPage @CRID_asso @AEDHmonde @amnesty @afpfr pic.twitter.com/fpYGdaOR6B— Marc ONA ESSANGUI (@onamarc) December 12, 2021
Five HRDs arrested on International Human Rights Day, charged with "illegal assembly"
On 10th December 2021, police arrested four activists of the pro-democracy movement Tournons la Page Niger - Armadan Moussa, Biliyaminou Idi, Moubarak Habou and Hima Hamani - while participating in the "citizen caravan of democracy", an event organised annually in Niamey on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, to raise awareness about the respect of fundamental freedoms and the benefits of democracy. Half an hour before the arrest of the four, Mathieu Pourchier, advocacy officer for French CSO Agir Ensemble Pour Les Droits Humains but seconded to the secretariat of Tournons la Page, was violently detained by police officers in plain clothes, questioned and taken into custody. According to Tournons la Page, the five face charges of "illegal assembly" despite the fact that local authorities did not ban the event. Additionally, Pourchier was not present at the site of the procession when he was arrested.
The five were provisionally released on 13th December 2021, but the charges against them were retained. Fifteen African and international organisations have issued a statement demanding that the charges be withdrawn.
NGOs and development associations meet with President Bazoum
On 2nd December 2021, President Mohamed Bazoum met with representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development associations (DAs). During this meeting, President Bazoum recalled the important role that these organisations play in Niger's society, stating they “have continuously affirmed and confirmed their role as a privileged instrument of national and international solidarity through a remarkable mobilisation to support the efforts of the State of Niger both in normal times and in times of crises”.
However, the Head of State also noted a failure on the part of associations in complying with legal and regulatory provisions governing their activities, warning that this will lead to diminished credibility by the State. To this end, he instructed the Ministry of Regional Planning and Community Development "to set up a mechanism aimed at intensifying communication on compliance with administrative rules and accountability in relation to the state".
Passage French military transit convoy: two people killed in clashes
On 27th November 2021, a French military convoy in transit from Côte d'Ivoire through Burkina Faso and Niger to Gao in Mali, was halted by protesters in Téra, in the region of Tillabéri. Clashes occurred, in which at least two people were killed and 18 injured. According to a spokesperson for the French army, Nigerien military officers first used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters, followed later by warning shots. An investigation was opened into the circumstances that led to the death of two people.
As reported in a recent Monitor update on civic space in Burkina Faso, the military convoy had already been halted by protesters in Bobo Dioulasso, Ouagadougou and Kaya in Burkina Faso, during which at least four people were injured. The presence of the French military has become increasingly contested in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and protests against the French military have multiplied.
Civil society protest banned
On 4th December 2021, the Appeal Court banned a civil society protest planned for 5th December 2021 in Niamey. That day, pro-democracy group Tournons la Page Niger intended to protest to demand the departure of foreign military bases, in particular the presence of the French military, and to pay respect to the two protesters who were killed in the protests in Téra (see above). The ruling of the Appeal Court repealed a court ruling on 3rd December 2021 which overturned the protest ban by local authorities. On 2nd December 2021, city authorities had banned the protests on grounds of "risks to disturb public order".
During a press conference on 7th December 2021, coordinator of Tournons la Page Niger, Maikoul Zodi, said that seven people who attempted to protest on 5th December were arrested. According to Zodi, the protesters were not informed of the Appeal Court's ruling banning the protest.
Two Nigerien journalists, ICIJ member @moussa_aksar and Samira Sabou, were handed suspended prison sentences for reproducing a @GI_TOC corruption survey — a move strongly denounced by #pressfreedom advocates @RSF_fr. https://t.co/F8evkeCgmQ— ICIJ (@ICIJorg) January 3, 2022
Suspended prison sentences for journalists Samira Sabou and Moussa Aksar
On 3rd January 2022, a court sentenced journalist and blogger Samira Sabou to a suspended prison sentence of one month and a fine of 50,000 CFA (86 USD) for defamation, while investigative journalist and editor of media outlet L'Evénement Moussa Aksar received a suspended prison sentence of two months for defamation and undermining public order.
As reported previously on the Monitor, the two journalists appeared before the investigating judge at a court in Niamey on charges of 'defamation via electronic means' and 'diffusing information to disrupt public order' under the 2019 Cybercrime Law. The charges stem from having shared, online, a report on drug trafficking in Niger by the CSO Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime. The report described Niger as the "nerve centre" for regional drug trafficking and alleged that hashish confiscated by the Nigerien police in March 2021 was repossessed by drug traffickers due to close links between the traffickers and a part of the military and political elite. Arnaud Froger of Reporters without Borders (RSF) commented:
“We strongly condemn these sentences, which make absolutely no legal sense and which, in practice, can only help to encourage drug trafficking and its promoters. This decision further discredits Niger’s political and judicial authorities and their constant persecution of journalists who shine a light on corruption in this country.”