Open letter for the release of Human Rights Defenders in Niger
19 April 2018
Dear Sir or Madam,
We, national and international civil society organisations, wish to express our deep concern regarding the arrest of human rights defenders in Niger by security forces on Sunday 25 March, and their detention ordered by the senior investigating judge in Niamey on Tuesday 27 March. We are also concerned about the detention of Nigerien human rights defenders following further arrests on the 15 April.
As an official representative of your government, we call on you, and other diplomatic representatives in Niger, to strongly denounce this unprecedented repression of fundamental freedoms by the governing authorities. We call on you to uphold and protect democratic values, in line with those of your government, by condemning the erosion of the rule of law in Niger and intervening with the authorities to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders incarcerated in relation to peaceful protests.
The arrests were made during peaceful protests against the 2018 Finance Law that was passed by the Nigerien Parliament in November 2017. The Nigerien authorities had banned the peaceful marches on the unfounded basis of security risks. For several months, civil society organisations, through a consultation framework, have been organizing peaceful public demonstrations called Days of Citizen Action (DCA) to protest against the new Finance Law. According to civil society organisations, this law would result in income tax reforms and new taxes on housing and electricity which would increase the risk of corruption as well as the cost of living for the poorest.
Seeking to exercise their legal right guaranteed under Article 32 of the Constitution of 25 November 2010, the demonstrators defied the ban against the peaceful marches. To break up the march, police threw canisters of tear gas at them.
On the 25 March, twenty-three people were arrested, some at the headquarters of civil society organisations, and others during the demonstration. Among the people arrested were Ali Idrissa Nani, Coordinator of ROTAB (Network of Organisations for Budgetary Transparency and Analysis) and Board member of Publish What You Pay, Nouhou Arzika, President of Mouvement patriotique pour une citoyenneté responsable (Patriotic Movement for Responsible Citizenship – MPCR), Moussa Tchangari, General Secretary of Alternative Espace Citoyens (Alternative Citizens’ Space – AEC), Lirwana Abdourahmane and 19 other people.
Despite not being part of the demonstration of 25 March, the four human rights defenders were charged by the regional court of Niamey (tribunal de Grande Instance) with organising and participating in the banned demonstration, and with complicity in an act of violence, assault and destruction of public property. They were then transferred to various prisons in Niger, often far from their families. Furthermore, the television channel run by the Labari Press Group was shut down by security forces, who entered the premises without presenting neither a warrant nor written notification from the High Council for Communication. On 28 March, the Court in Niamey ordered that Labari radio and television stations be re-opened, describing its closure and restricted access as unlawful disturbance which had no legal grounds.
In spite of these intimidation attempts by the authorities, civil society actors in Niger continue their mobilisation to call out the flaws they see in the 2018 Finance Law. Following another march organised on the 15th of April, three civil society leaders were also arrested. Maikoul ZODI, President of the Mouvement des jeunes républicains (Movement for Young Republicans) and national coordinator of the campaign Tournons la Page, Abdourahamane Idé HASSANE, President of Jeunesse pour une Mentalité Nouvelle (Youth for a New Mentality) and Ibrahim DIORI, Advocacy coordinator at Alternative Espace Citoyens (Alternative Citizens’ Space) stand accused of “participation in a banned demonstration and and destruction of public property”. On 19 April, the regional court in Niamey placed Maikoul ZODI and Ibrahim DIORI under detention and ordered their transfer to prisons in Say Kollo. Abdourahamane Idé HASSANE has since been released on bail.These new arrests point to the authorities’ willingness to leave no room for dissent on the Finance Law and to further reduce civic space.
The closure of the Labari Press Group, the mass arrest of actors from civil society and the opposition who had been peacefully protesting against the 2018 Finance Law, as well as the transfer of the accused to remote prisons all mark a new phase in the Nigerien government’s authoritarian trend. This trend has already been documented in late 2017 by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; the leading global standard for transparency in oil, gas and mining, and it demands a strong response from your government.
We urge you to remind the Nigerien authorities of their duty to respect fundamental freedoms and to demand that they drop all charges against the human rights defenders arrested on 25 March and 15 April, and to release them immediately without conditions. In addition, Nigerien authorities must be pressured to end their intimidation of dissenting voices, including through the use of judicial harassment. And they must restore a participatory environment, allowing civil society organisations to freely carry out legitimate activities in their pursuit of establishing human rights and promoting a transparent and responsible management of public finances to benefit the poorest populations. To achieve this end, we ask for your support in encouraging the Nigerien authorities to establish an open dialogue with civil society actors on their right to peaceful assembly on matters of national concern.