Numerous protests took place against a constitutional amendment allowing a third term for the President. In response, the President dissolved key institutions and granted himself emergency powers. The security forces harassed and detained political leaders, journalists and human rights activists. The government and Tuareg-led armed opposition signed a peace agreement.
In May, President Tandja dissolved Parliament after the Constitutional Court rejected attempts to amend the Constitution by referendum to allow him a third term. In June, he dissolved the Constitutional Court and granted himself emergency powers. In August, the President overwhelmingly won the referendum (boycotted by opposition parties) to change the Constitution. This resulted in protests led by opposition parties, civil society activists and trade unions who denounced a “constitutional coup”. In October, the ruling party won parliamentary elections (also boycotted by the opposition), despite calls by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to postpone the vote. As a result, Niger was suspended from ECOWAS.
In April, two Canadian diplomats abducted in Niger in December 2008 by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were released in Mali.
In October, several Tuareg armed groups signed a comprehensive peace agreement with the government, with all Tuareg factions agreeing to disarm. As a result, the state of emergency, in place in the Agadez region since 2007, was lifted in November.
Repression of dissent
The authorities repressed demonstrations against the referendum and President Tandja’s rule, and arrested several political opponents.
- In June, Mamadou Issoufou, former member of parliament and leader of the main opposition party, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (Parti nigérien pour la démocratie et le socialisme, PNDS), was briefly detained, allegedly after calling on security forces to stop obeying President Tandja’s orders.
- In July, opposition activist Alassane Karfi was arrested and sent to Koutoukalé high-security prison after criticizing the referendum process on television. He was charged with “provoking the creation of a crowd” and was released on bail in October.
Human rights defenders
Human rights activists, notably members of the United Front for the Protection of Democracy (Front uni pour la sauvegarde des acquis démocratiques, FUSAD), were repeatedly harassed by the police when protesting against the constitutional amendment. Demonstrations that were mostly peaceful were dispersed with tear gas.
- In August, Marou Amadou, a human rights activist and President of FUSAD, was arrested for calling for protests against the government. Following a judicial decision, he was released the next day but immediately rearrested. He was charged with “running an unauthorized association”. He was released on bail in September.
Freedom of expression – the media
President Tandja issued a decree in July which could be used to censor information deemed to “endanger state security or public order” and which swept aside the authority of the national media regulatory agency.
- In April, Seyni Amadou, director of Dounia TV, and another journalist, Elhadj Idi Abdou, were briefly arrested and charged with “broadcasting false information” after criticizing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Niger. In June, the Dounia media group was closed down for several days for airing a statement from the opposition accusing President Tandja of staging a coup.
- In August, Abdoulaye Tiémogo, the publishing manager of the independent newspaper Le Canard Déchaîné, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for having “discredited a court decision” by commenting on the arrest warrant against former Prime Minister Hama Amadou. He was released after two months.
President Tandja granted a blanket amnesty to all members of the Tuareg armed opposition following the October peace agreement. The amnesty, also covering the Nigerien security forces, entrenched the climate of impunity and closed any avenues for justice and redress for human rights abuses committed by both sides during the conflict. About 100 Tuareg remained held without trial for their alleged involvement in the armed opposition, even though they should have been released under the amnesty.