Niger: Court Fines and jails activist for allegedly undermining public order

In what can be described as blatant judicial harassment, a Niger High Court has convicted a pro-democracy activist to a fine and jail term in one ruling.  Abdoulaye Seydou, who is the President of the Pan-African Network for Peace, Democracy and Development (Réseau Panafricain pour la Paix, la Démocratie et le Développement – REPPADD), was convicted to a nine-month prison term and a fine of one million CFA Francs ($1,680) in a ruling by the court in Niamey on April 14, 2023.

Mr. Seidou is also the coordinator of the citizen’s movement, M62.

The court says it found him guilty of producing and disseminating information likely to undermine public order and demoralize the army. The High Court of Niamey handed the sentence pursuant to Article 31 of the country’s cybercrime law (no. 2019-33).

This was the second time that the charge had been brought against the coordinator of M62, after his organisation published a report which challenged the official report of an attack on a mining site.

On January 23, 2023, after a hearing at the High Court of Niamey, the prosecutor dropped the charge for lack of evidence and placed Mr. Seydou in detention for alleged complicity in arson. The activist was therefore re-arrested on the grounds that he was an accomplice in the burning of the sheds of gold miners at a mining site in Tamou, Say, of the Tillabéri region. Seydou would be transferred the same day to the maximum-security prison of Kollo, located about 30 km south-east of Niamey.

According to the Secretary-General of M62, Sanoussi Mahamane, who spoke to the MFWA, the prosecutor, in a press briefing on the same day, had announced on state television Télé Sahel that he had initiated the new proceedings against Mr. Seydou following a report by the departmental police in Tamou. The police’s investigation allegedly showed that “unidentified individuals” had gone to a gold-mining site to “set fire to shops and sheds used as dwellings”.

On October 27, 2022, a few days after an alleged terrorist attack on a joint Water and Forestry and police checkpoint in Tamou, a town bordering Burkina Faso, the M62 sent a rapid fact-finding mission led by its National Coordinator to Tamou, Say, and the National Hospital in Niamey to talk to the wounded, and witnesses of the incident. The mission also interviewed relatives of deceased victims, traditional authorities, gold miners, and administrative and health workers. The team also visited the Tamou cemetery.

According to M62, this field investigation was carried out after several internet users questioned a report by Niger’s Ministry of Defense about the terrorist attack.

On October 25, 2022, the Defense Ministry announced the deaths of two Nigerien police officers in a terror attack on a joint Water and Forest agencies, and police checkpoint In Tamou. The ministry also said in its statement that seven people were killed and 24 wounded during the army’s aerial and other operations in response to the attack. According to the statement, the Defense and Security Forces also identified a clandestine gold mining site where the attackers were transporting military equipment during the attacks.

After its visit to the site, the M62 also issued a statement reporting its findings on the ground, while specifying that it is impossible to determine the exact number of people who died until an independent investigative mission with forensic experts do an investigation. The movement also called on the government to compensate the victims and sanction those responsible.

It is not a crime for civil society organizations and human rights activists to hold the authorities to account. The judicial harassment suffered by Abdoulaye Seydou and the repeated violation of his rights, are symptomatic of an environment hostile to critical and dissenting voices.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is deeply dismayed by the sentence handed to Abdoulaye Seydou, coordinator of M62. We empathize with the activist and call on the authorities to drop the charges and release him.

We strongly condemn the arbitrary treatment metered to him since January 23, 2023, and wish to draw the attention of the authorities to the fact that Seydou’s rights were repeatedly violated with complete impunity.

The MFWA demands justice for the activist, whose rights were blatantly violated.

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