Niger: Press freedom violations escalate after military coup
On 26th July 2023, General Abdourahmane Tiani and other soldiers of the self-proclaimed Conseil National pour la sauvegarde de la patrie (CNSP; National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland) overthrew the government of President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been detained since then in the presidential palace.
On 30th July 2023, in a reaction to the coup, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended commercial and financial transactions with Niger and threatened military intervention if the military junta did not release Bazoum. Later, on 10th August, ECOWAS issued sanctions on the coup leaders, while the African Union suspended Niger from its organs and institutions on 22nd August 2023.
On 10th October 2023, the CNSP ordered the departure of Louise Aubin, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Niger, within 72 hours, after accusing the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on 22nd September 2023, of “perfidious actions” and obstructing their full participation in the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.
#Niger Depuis le coup d'Etat du 26 juillet, les droits humains sont en danger avec les arrestations arbitraires et les attaques contre la liberté de presse. @hrw et @amnesty invitent les autorités à garantir la liberté d’expression et l'Etat de droit.https://t.co/TBHg2wRDru— Amnesty West & Central Africa (@AmnestyWARO) October 26, 2023
Human rights groups raise concern about crackdown on peaceful dissent and critical media
In a statement issued on 26th October 2023, human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said that the military transitional authorities have cracked down on critical media and peaceful dissent since the military coup in July 2023. Journalists and members of media organisations have told the human rights organisations they have been subjected to increased pressures and intimidation, including threats of violence and surveillance.
Freedom of expression, dissent, and media freedom are vital for the enjoyment of other rights and holding the government accountable. The transitional military authorities should act decisively to end the growing threats, harassment, intimidation, arrests, and violence against Nigerien journalists, media organizations, and critics and take effective measures to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill the rights of everyone in the country. - Ousmane Diallo, Sahel researcher for Amnesty International
Additionally, the human rights groups said that the military junta had arbitrarily detained dozens of former officials from the ousted government.
#NIGER 🇳🇪 - @pressfreedom reports that after being taken from her home on 30 September and 11 days in detention, @samirasabou now charged with disseminating data likely to disturb public order: https://t.co/Bira0zKVon— IFEX (@IFEX) October 24, 2023
Expression & Association
Arrest, prosecution of journalist and blogger Samira Sabou
On 30th September 2023, four men in plainclothes, who identified themselves as security force members, detained journalist, activist and president of the Association des Blogueurs pour une Citoyenneté Active (Association of Bloggers for Active Citizenship) Samira Sabou at her mother’s house in Niamey in the presence of her husband. The men put a hood over Sabou’s head and took her to an unknown destination. For eight days, until 7th October 2023 when she was transferred to the criminal investigation unit, the Niamey judicial police denied having arrested her. On 11th October 2023, Sabou was charged with ‘production and dissemination of data likely to disturb public order’ and provisionally released, pending trial.
According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), Sabou posted a leaked document from the Ministry of Defence containing names of military officers who were about to be transferred.
On 4th August 2023, Sabou said she had received an intimidating call from a member of the military, who questioned her about one of her social media posts, in which she shared a message from the deposed former President Bazoum.
Sabou has been subjected to arbitrary detention and judicial harassment on several occasions. As reported previously on the Monitor, in January 2022 a court in Niamey sentenced Sabou in to a suspended prison sentence of one month and a fine of 50,000 CFA (86 USD) for defamation after she had shared a CSO report on drug trafficking. In 2020, Sabou spent 48 days in arbitrary detention until she was acquitted on 28th July 2020.
The detention of Sabou caused an outcry among human rights and press freedom advocates. In a joint statement, the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN) and the Nigerien Human Rights Defenders Network (RNDDH) expressed their concern and called on the State of Niger to comply with its international commitments on human rights.
Journalists intimidated, threatened, attacked
Since Niger’s military coup on 26th July 2023, several journalists, local and international, have been threatened, intimidated, cyber-harassed or attacked. In an appeal, 80 journalists, media owners and African press defenders have called on Niger’s military authorities to respect media freedom after highlighting incidents perpetrated by military officers or coup supporters, documented by press freedom organisations:
- On 28th July 2023, unidentified masked men stopped Sahiana Maman Hassan, editor of news magazine Le Témoin de l’Histoire, while he was walking near his home in Niamey and threatened to raid his house “very soon” and to kidnap him. The journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 7th August 2023 that he went into hiding and has suspended the printing of Le Témoin de l’Histoire out of safety concerns.
- Independent journalists Amaury Hauchard and Stanislas Poyet, both based in Niamey, were physically and verbally attacked on 19th August 2023 when they were covering a gathering of “volunteers for the homeland”. The two were beaten, while Poyet’s passport and radio equipment were also stolen.
- In August 2023, TV 5 Monde correspondent Anne Fleur Lespiaut was subjected to cyber-harassment by supporters of the military junta, including threats of “settling of accounts”.
- During a press conference on 28th July 2023, organised by deposed President Bazoum’s Party for democracy and Socialism (PNDS – Tarayya), unidentified individuals attacked the crews of two media outlets, radio network Anfani and TV channel Bonferey, damaging a camera.
The Maison de la Presse (Press House) likewise issued a press release, on 16th August 2023, expressing its concern about “pressures, threats, intimidation” of media professionals.
Signals of French broadcasters RFI and France 24 blocked
On 3rd August 2023, the CNSP ordered the blocking of the signals of French broadcasters Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France 24, both part of France’s publicly owned international broadcasting group France Médias Monde (FMM). The latter called it an effective “suspension” made “outside any conventional and legal framework”.
Six academics, officials removed from office for having signed a petition
According to Amnesty International, six academics and state officials were removed from office through a decree issued by Abdourahmane Tiani, Niger’s miltary leader on 22nd August 2023. The decree came a day after the six had signed a petition, along with other academics, distancing themselves from a statement issued by the National Union of Teachers and Researchers pledging their support of CNSP.
Protests against France, the presence of French troops, in support of CNSP
Since the military coup of 26th August 2023, several anti-French protests and protests to show support to the military junta have taken place in Niger. For example, on 2nd and 3rd September 2023, thousands of people gathered in Niamey and Ouallam to demand the departure of French soldiers from Nigerien soil. Thousands showed their support to the military junta on 20th August 2023, following a speech by General Abdourahmane Tiani, who promised a transition to civilian rule within three years. Protesters were seen with slogans hostile of ECOWAS and France.
On 30th July 2023, a protest in front of the French embassy in Niamey, gathering thousands, was dispersed by soldiers, who used tear gas when some protesters attempted to enter the embassy.