On 15 September 2020 it will be six months since three human rights defenders were jailed in Niger simply for participating in peaceful protests calling for an investigation into allegations of the misuse of funds by the Ministry of Defence.
CIVICUS, Amnesty International, Publish What You Pay (PWYP), Tournos la Page International (TLP) and Front Line Defenders call for the immediate and unconditional release of Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maikoul Zodi. They were arrested with four other activists between 15-17 March 2020 after security forces violently dispersed peaceful anti-corruption protests in the capital Niamey.
Authorities had placed a blanket ban on all demonstrations on 13 March, as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. At least three people were killed as a result of the violence and several properties were damaged. The trumped-up charges against them include "organizing an unauthorized gathering", arson, damage to public property and manslaughter.
At least 15 activists were arrested, with six of them being remanded in detention. Three of the detainees were provisionally released in May but Moudi, Halidou and Maikoul are still arbitrarily detained despite being granted bail of 5 million Francs (approximately 9200 US Dollars) on 6 August. The prosecutor successfully appealed the decision and they are now being held in three separate prisons.
Moudi Moussa is a journalist and trade unionist, Halidou Mounkaila is leader of the teacher's union SYNACEB and Maikoul Zodi is the National Coordinator of the Tournons La Page global movement. All three human rights defenders are profiled in the CIVICUS campaign #StandAsMyWitness, which raises awareness of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders around the world and calls for their release. They are also members of the PWYP coalition.
Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
There is a growing crackdown on human rights, and an increase in civic space violations in Niger. In June, the country was added to the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List. This list highlights countries where there has been a recent rapid decline in human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
The organisations are concerned about the harassment, intimidation and attacks on human rights activists and defenders, particularly those who call for transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors. Journalists have also been arrested for reporting on allegations of corruption.
On 10 June 2020 journalist and blogger Samira Sabou was arrested in Niamey and charged with defamation in connection with a social media post highlighting corruption. According to fellow human rights defenders, her arrest is linked to a post on social media on 26 May 2020, in which she referred to an audit of the Ministry of Defence regarding overcharging and embezzlement during the purchase of military equipment for the army. One of the comments below the post criticised the President's son in relation to the audit, although Samira Sabou did not mention the son in her post. On 28 July, she was discharged by the High Court of Niamey on the grounds of 'unconstituted offences' and released the same day.
On 12 July, journalist Ali Soumana was summoned by the police, interrogated, and accused of false information for comments made about alleged corruption. Some journalists have also been arrested and detained for reporting on the authorities' response to COVID-19. In May, the National Assembly enacted a new law that allows the authorities to intercept telephone conversations as part of the state's response to combat terrorism and transnational crime without the appropriate human rights safeguards, including the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
"Over the last eight months we have seen a surge in human rights violations by the Nigerien authorities including intimidation and harassment of human rights activists, defenders and journalists. It is a travesty that Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maikoul Zodi are still in jail simply for protesting against alleged misuse of defence funds. They should all be released immediately and unconditionally," said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.
"We believe charges against the activists related to complicity in damaging public property, arson and manslaughter, are fabricated to undermine the peaceful exercise of their human rights and demands for transparency and accountability", said Samira Daoud, Regional Director, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Office.
The organisations are concerned about the prolonged detention of human rights defenders on baseless charges. We call on the government of Niger to immediately release Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maikoul Zodi and to stop persecuting members of civil society.
Niger is listed 'obstructed ' by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks civic space conditions across the world.