Niger authorities on rampage against critical voices

The authorities in Niger have gone on rampage against critical voices in the country with a wave of arrests and detentions leading to the rounding up of at least seven citizens over the past three months (January-March, 2023).

All the cases involved online publications. The victims are accused of infractions under the country’s 2019 cybercrime law (no. 2019-33). They are charged with “production and dissemination of information likely to undermine public order” and then detained before they are released on bail.

One of the most recent acts of hounding was perpetrated against Badja Abdou Awal, a member of the CSO Mouvement Populaire pour une Citoyenneté Responsable (People’s Movement for Responsible Citizenship – MPCR). He was released on March 31, 2023, after being dragged before the High Court of Niamey, the capital of Niger. While Awal has regained his freedom, another victim, Idrissa Adamou, who is the National Coordinator of the NGO, Notre Cause Commune (NCC), was only granted provisional release on March 21, 2023.

Awal and Adamou were arrested and detained on March 9, 2023, at the Niamey civil prison. According to Maikoul Zodi, national coordinator of Tournons la Page Niger, a citizen’s movement pushing for democratic change, the phones of the two activists were seized and searched for evidence. The officers even invaded WhatsApp groups of CSOs that these activists belong to. Other sources have since corroborated this.

Another activist, Ibrahim Salissou, a member of the MPCR, was arrested on February 20, 2023. Shortly before his arrest, the Deputy Secretary for Propaganda and Mobilisation of the Cadre de Concertation et de Lutte Démocratique (CCLD-Mountaka), Soumaila Mounkaila was arrested on February 17, 2023.

Salissou was transferred to the main prison in Niamey on February 21, 2023, for sharing information that supposedly can undermine public order. The MPCR activist told MFWA that he shared on a WhatsApp group a video of the 2010 coup against former President Tandja Mahamadou to draw the attention of members of the group who are close to the current government to possible misinformation by some ill-intentioned people. Salissou said that he received the video from an acquaintance who wanted to know if there had been a coup against the current regime. The activist was provisionally released on March 23, 2023.

Soumaila usually translates audio messages posted in a WhatsApp opinion-sharing groups that he belongs to, from French into Zarma, one of Niger’s local languages.. The day before his arrest, Mounkaila translated an audio message about a call for a demonstration that was posted in a WhatsApp group. The activist is currently in detention even as he receives treatment because his health is deteriorating.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release of the activists and condemns in the strongest terms their arbitrary arrest and detention which should not have happened in the first place. We urge the judicial authorities in Niger to put an end to the judicial harassment and to redress the repeated violation of the rights of the victims.

The adoption of the cybercrime law (No. 2019-33) has unfortunately created opportunity for the repression of critical and dissident voices in Niger. Given the law and the current political context in the country, it is difficult to identify clearly, what can be dangerous to the public order or be useful for the information of the public, but also incur vindictive reaction from the political authorities. This context, which is hardly conducive for the freedom of expression and opinion, is even more detrimental to the civic space.

The MFWA, therefore, calls on the government of Niger to review the cybercrime law (no. 2019-33), while establishing a conducive framework for the enjoyment of civil and fundamental rights.

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