Eight HRDs arrested and prosecuted for protesting against corruption

Peaceful Assembly and Association

Civil society protest against corruption dispersed, eight HRDs arrested

Police dispersed a protest organised by civil society actors in Niamey on 15th March 2020 to denounce corruption in the purchase of military material, and arrested several civil society actors in the aftermath of the protest. The protest was previously banned through a Council of Minister's decision taken on 13th March 2020 prohibiting public gatherings of more than 1,000 persons as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As the organisers, the pro-democracy movement Tournons la Page Niger, who notified authorities of the planned protest, did not receive an official notification of the prohibition of the protests, they decided to move ahead with the march. On the day of the protest, security forces were deployed on all the roads leading to the Place de la Concertation, the starting place of the protest, and violent clashes ensued between protesters and security forces, with the latter reportedly using tear gas to disperse the protesters. Three people died in a fire at the Tagabati market, and some sources claim that tear gas fired by security forces set the roof of the market on fire. 

At least 15 people, including eight civil society activists, were detained by authorities between 15th and 17th March 2020 for participation in an unauthorised protest. It concerns the following civil society activists and leaders: secretary general of the NGO Alternative Espaces Citoyens Moussa Tchangari, secretary general of trade union SYNACEB Halidou Mounkaila, communication coordinator of Tournons la Page Niger Habibou Soumaila, regional coordinator of Tournons la Page Moudi Moussa, coordinator of campaigns for Tournons la Page Niger Maikoul Zodi, president of trade union Syndicat des Commerçants importateurs et exportateurs du Niger Sani Chekaraou, Karim Tonko of the Union des jeunes pour la protection de la démocratie et les droits de l’homme (UJPDDH; Youth Union for Democracy and Human rights) and president of Mouvement patriotique pour une citoyenneté responsable (MPCR, Patriotic Mouvement for a Responsible Citizenry) Seyni Djibo Nouhou Arzika.

The HRDs are being prosecuted for organising a prohibited protest and complicity in the destruction of public property, arson and manslaughter, except for Sani Chekaraou, who has been charged with 'assaulting authorities of the market'. Karim Tonko and Seyni Djibo Nouhou Arzika were released on bail on 19th March 2020, but still face charges. 

In a statement, Tournons la Page and dozens of other civil society organisations condemned the judicial harassment of these civil society actors and journalists (see under Expression) and expressed their concerns

"about the growing repression of civil society in Niger and the instrumentalisation of the risks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic to suffocate civic space online and offline - notably the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and political participation guaranteed by Niger's international obligations and by the Constitution of Niger." (translated from French)

Report: civil society protests almost systematically banned since the start of 2018

In the report 'Niger. When anti-terrorism justifies the restriction of civic space' published in March 2020, the pro-democracy movement Tournons la Page (TLP; Let's Turn the Page) documents the near systematic banning of civil society protests by local authorities since the start of 2018.  Law 2004-45 of 8th June 2004, which regulates assemblies on public roads, only requires organisers of protests to notify local authorities, while the freedom of peaceful assembly is also guaranteed by Niger's Constitution. Despite these legal provisions, local authorities have banned civil society protests and meetings, often invoking the grounds of 'threats to disturb public order' or security grounds, referring to the context of insecurity due to terrorist attacks in the country. Since March 2018, the movement has documented 24 instances of protests being banned. Since the beginning of January 2020, the following civil society protests have been banned, said TLP: 

  • 15th March 2020, Zinder: protest and meeting, organised by the Cadre de concertation et d'actions citoyennes de la société civile indépendante de Zinder  (Citizen consultation and action framework of independent civil society in Zinder), banned 'to avoid all risks of disturbance of public order';
  • 15th March 2020, Maradi: protest by civil society organisations CODDAE, MPCR, CROISADE and MJR banned on security grounds;
  • 6th February 2020, protests by trade union SYNACEB (Syndicat national des agents contractuels et fonctionnaires de l’éducation de base - National Trade Union of Contractual Agents and Civil Servants in Basic Education) banned in Zinder, Loga, Niamey, Agadez, Maradi and Dosso. Local authorities in those localities have used 'risks to disturb public order' and security grounds;
  • An informative general assembly of SYNACEB in Tahoua, planned for 6th February, was banned as 'likely to severely disrupt public order';
  • 19th January 2020, Niamey: meeting of Union des Patriotes et Panafricanistes banned due to 'risks to disturb public order'. 

Niger and other countries in the Sahel region - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Mali - have experienced a surge in violence and terrorist attacks in the past years. Several armed groups operate in parts of Niger, including Boko Haram in the area of Lake Chad, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in the border areas with Mali and Burkina Faso, perpetrating deadly attacks on civilians and security forces. 


COVID-19 pandemic: journalist arrested, journalists summoned

On 5th March 2020, police arrested independent journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni at his residence in Niamey. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who spoke with the public prosecutor in the case, the arrest followed a complaint by a local hospital in relation the journalist's social media posts claiming there was a suspected COVID-19 case at the hospital. The public prosecutor was pursuing charges of 'dissemination of data likely to disturb public order' under the 2019 Cyber Crime Law, which could land the journalist in prison for up to three years, besides a fine of 5 million francs CFA (8,169 USD) if found guilty. Angela Quintal of CPJ said

"Kaka Touda Mamane Goni and all other journalists in Niger should be free to cover the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak without fearing that they will be thrown in jail. Niger authorities should release Kaka Touda immediately, ensure he is given proper medical care, and drop their case against him. Authorities should not confuse censorship and the detention of a journalist with prudent public safety measures as part of their coronavirus response.”

Kaka Touda was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of three months, and a symbolic fine of 1 CFA franc, on 26th March 2020. 

On 14th March 2020, judicial police summoned a journalist and the editor of television station Labari over an interview with veterinary doctor Zoulkarneyni Maiga about COVID-19, said Amnesty International. Maiga was also summoned and released on 16th March.