Niger – PWYP’s Africa Steering Committee strongly condemns the arrest and charges brought against Ali Idrissa amid unrelenting crackdown on civil society
The Africa Steering Committee of Publish What You Pay strongly condemns the arrest and charges brought up against Ali Idrissa* on 14 April as well as the continued detention of six activists arrested a month ago in connection with a corruption scandal involving high-level public officials at Niger’s Ministry of Defense.
A recent audit relating to the management of the contracts of the Ministry of National Defense has revealed a series of irregularities, including the embezzlement of funds intended to be used to equip the army in the context of the fight against terrorism. In a bid to denounce this corruption scandal involving high rank officials, civil society decided to orchestrate a response in support of security force members deprived of quality military equipment.
On 15 March, a peaceful assembly organised in Niamey was violently quelled by security forces, leading to the death of three people. Between 15 and 17 March at least 15 people were arrested and detained. On 13 March, the Council of Ministers released a statement on the measures the country is taking to control the spread of COVID-19, including the banning of gatherings of over 1,000 people. To date, six activists, including three PWYP members as well as a member of the Niger Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) multi-stakeholder group (MSG), are still held in detention in different prisons across the country. Moudi Moussa, Mounkaila Halidou, Moussa Tchangari, Habibou Soumaila and Maïkoul Zodi are being prosecuted for “organising a prohibited demonstration and for complicity in the destruction of public property, arson and manslaughter”, Sani Chekaraou for “assault on the authorities of the big market”.
On Thursday 9 April, Ali Idrissa was summoned to the police station following a complaint lodged against him by the former Army Chief of Staff. The complaint accused him of defamation in connection with an alleged corruption scandal involving the Ministry of Defense. Ali was held in custody until 14 April, the day he was brought before the Prosecution and was released on bail. On this date, he was charged with “defamation against the general of the army and the wife of the former Chief of staff”, as well as the “dissemination of information aimed at disturbing public order” on the basis of the Cybercrime Law.
“There is a clear pattern of harassment of anti-corruption activists in Niger. Ali Idrissa and several of the activists arrested and detained had already been targeted in a wave of arrests in 2018 linked to protests against the 2018 finance law” highlighted Mutuso Dhliwayo, Chair of the PWYP Africa Steering Committee.
“While dissenting voices are jailed and are under Government scrutiny, at least 1,540 prisoners have allegedly been released in Niger over the past few weeks to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus.
“We are worried about the rapid deterioration of civic freedoms in Niger over recent weeks. These incidents are part of a broader crackdown on civil society, including on journalists and other whistleblowers. Several pieces of legislation, such as the highly controversial Cybercrime law, are used as justifications to muzzle independent voices who attempt to shed light on the government’s wrongdoings. The adoption by the Council of Ministers of a new bill aimed at intercepting certain communications transmitted electronically on 3 April further illustrates the authorities’ intent to quell dissent”.
“Niger is violating its international human rights law obligations and is compromising its credibility as an EITI implementing country by violating the Civil Society Protocol”, he added.
“Resorting to repression of critical voices is never an option, even less so in the context of the many challenges presented by the current pandemic crisis. Now more than ever, human rights defenders need to be the ears and voices of the most vulnerable groups and to hold their governments accountable. The authorities of Niger should instead take the audit as an opportunity to engage in a fruitful dialogue with civil society, taking into account its demand for transparency.
“We call on the Government of Niger to immediately, and without any conditions, drop all charges brought against Ali Idrissa, to release the six activists detained since 19 March and to take the necessary measures to bring to justice those responsible”, concluded Mutuso Dhliwayo.
*Ali is a prominent advocate for human rights and for the promotion of transparency and accountability in Niger. He is Director General of the Independent Press Group, Labari; the Coordinator of Réseau des organisations pour la transparence et l’analyse budgétaire (Network of Organisations for Budgetary Transparency and Analysis – ROTAB) and PWYP Niger. Ali is also a member of the PWYP Board.
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