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Judicial harassment and arrests of activists continues unabated

Association

Judicial harassment of HRDs continues

On 9th April 2020, Ali Idrissa, national coordinator of the anti-corruption organisations Réseau des Organisations pour la Transparence et l'Analyse Budgétaire (ROTAB; Network of Organisations for Transparency and the Budgetary Analysis) and Publish What You Pay Niger was summoned by the judiciary police following a complaint by a former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. The latter accuses Ali Idrissa of defamation in relation to the case of alleged embezzlement and irregularities in the purchase of military material. In violation of regulations on the maximum duration of custody, which is 48 hours that can be renewed once. Ali Idrissa was held in custody until 14th April when he appeared before the public prosecutor and was charged under the 2019 Cybercrime Law for 'defamation against the general of the army and the wife of the former chief of staff ' and 'dissemination of information aimed at disturbing public order'. Idrissa was released on bail on the same day, but faces three years in prison if found guilty of the charges, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Ali Idrissa has been arrested and prosecuted before: as reported previously on the Monitor, he was arrested along other civil society actors in relation to the protests in March 2018 against the 2018 Budget Law and was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of three months for 'provocation of an unarmed gathering through posters and writings'. 

The regional coordinator for the movement Tournons la Page in Zinder, Moustapha Elh Adam was detained on 30th April 2020 for 'assault' on the prefect of the town Tanout, reportedly after a complaint by the prefect. According to Amnesty International, who spoke with a witness, Moustapha Elh Adam had complained, during a meeting with the prefect, about electricity cuts in the town. 

Three HRDs provisionally released, three HRDs remain in prison

On 30th April 2020, three civil society actors who were arrested between 15th and 17th March 2020 in relation to a civil society protest to denounce alleged corruption in the purchase of military material, were provisionally released. It concerns Moussa Tchangari (secretary general of the NGO Alternative Espaces Citoyens), Sani Chekaraou (president of trade union Syndicat des Commerçants importateurs et exportateurs du Niger) and Habibou Soumaila (communication coordinator of Tournons la Page Niger). Three other HRDs - Maikoul Zodi and Moudi Moussa of Tournons la Page and Halidou Mounkaila - remain in prison. 

As documented previously on the Monitor, at least 15 people, including eight civil society activists, were detained by authorities between 15th and 17th March 2020 in relation to a civil society protest on 15th March 2020. The eight civil society activists 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 previously released on bail on 19th March 2020. 

Expression

Blogger and journalist Samira Sabou arrested

Journalist, blogger and woman human rights defender Samira Sabou was arrested on 10th June 2020 in Niamey, following a defamation complaint by the son and chief of staff of president Mahamadou Issoufou. According to human rights and press freedom organisations, the arrest relates to a Facebook post by Sabou on 26th May commenting on the recent audit of contracts for the purchase of military material within the Ministry of Defence and its irregularities. Samira Sabou is currently in pre-trial detention and has been charged with 'defamation by means of electronic communication' under the 2019 Cybercrime Law. If found guilty, she could be sentenced to prison for up to three years and a fine of up to 5 million CFA francs. 

Sabou is the president of the Association des blogueurs pour une citoyenneté active (Bloggers' Association for an Active Citizenry), editor for the news website Niger Search and manager of the online news outlet Mides-NigerAccording to human rights organisation Frontline Defenders, Samira Sabou has worked on campaigns to promote the role of women in the public space and protect their freedom of expression in the media. 

Arrests and prosecutions for criticising government response to curb the spread of COVID-19

According to Amnesty International, at least three people have been arrested and charged under the 2019 Law on Cybercrime for having criticised the government, including through private messages on WhatsApp, for the measures it has taken in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the country. 

  • Civil society actor Mahaman Lawai Mahaman Nassourou, vice-president of the Comité de réflexion et d'orientation indépendante pour la sauvegarde des acquis démocratiques (CROISADE; Committee of Independent reflection and orientation for safeguarding democratic gains) and member of anti-corruption network Rotab was arrested on 22nd April 2020 in Matadi for having shared information that could disturb public order. Nassourou allegedly forwarded a message on WhatsApp from a religious organisation that had denounced the closure of mosques. 
  • Garba Dan Saley Laouali, a member of the civil society group Mouvement patriotique pour une citoyenneté responsable (MPCR; Patriotic Movement for a Responsible Citizenry) was detained the next day, on 23rd April 2020, after having posted a Facebook item on the detention of Nassourou and calling for the mobilisation of civil society. He was reportedly detained when he tried to visit Nassourou at the police station and was accused of disturbing public order. He was provisionally released on 27th April, and cannot leave Matadi. 
  • Amina Maiga, who works for the Court of Niamey was arrested on 29th April 2020 and sentenced on 7th May 2020 to a suspended prison sentence of three months and a fine of 20,000 francs CFA (33.5 USD) for disturbing public order. She was detained after a private WhatsApp message, in which she criticised the management of the COVID-19 pandemic by the government, was intercepted. 

Kiné Fatim Diop of Amnesty International stated:

"In the context of the current state of emergency in Niger in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many civil rights and freedoms have been restricted. Certain restrictions are permitted under international human rights law if they are legal, necessary and proportionate. But in no case can they criminalise any message criticising the measures taken by the government issued on WhatsApp or Facebook"

The human rights organisation said that article 31 of the 2019 law on Cybercrime, which was adopted by the National Assembly in June 2019, has been applied in an 'abusive and intrusive' way. 

New law authorises surveillance of telephone communication

Niger's National Assembly approved, on 29th May 2020, a new law that authorises the interception of telephone communication in the context of the 'fight against terrorism and transnational crime'. The new law allows for the 'research' of information that may threaten state security or in the context of the fight against terrorism and organised transnational crime. The law was heavily contested by the opposition, with opposition Members of Parliament walking out of the National Assembly in protest. In an interview with Radio France International (RFI) Ousmane Diallo of Amnesty International said that 'it is now the executive that decides on the interceptions, no longer the judges'.