Wave of arrests of CSO activists in protests against 2018 budget law
#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.