Detained activists must be released
Seven activists were arrested between 15 and 17 March in Niamey, Niger, after organizing a protest on 15 March. They were charged with organizing an unauthorized gathering and complicity in damaging public property, arson, and manslaughter. Moussa Tchangari, Halidou Mounkaila, Habibou Soumaila, Moundi Moussa, and Maikoul Zodi have been detained since 19 March. Karim Tanko and Seyni Djibo were released on bail on 19 March.
On 13 March, authorities in Niger published a statement from the Council of Ministers concerning measures being taken to combat the spread of COVID-19, including a ban on all gatherings likely to attract more than 1,000 people. A demonstration was already planned to take place on 15 March in Niamey and other cities by civil society organization to demand an investigation into the misuse of funds revealed by an audit of the Ministry of Defence. Despite the ban, the organizers went ahead with the demonstrations.
Early on the morning of 15 March, security forces blocked all the roads leading to the planned venue for the protest, the ‘Place de la Concertation’ in Niamey. At least three individuals died when the demonstration was violently broken up by security forces using tear gas. Significant damage was recorded as several shops were set on fire near the Tagabati market. Civil society leaders were subsequently arrested.
On 15 March, Karim Tanko, financial secretary of Tournons la Page (TLP Niger), Moussa Tchangari, secretary-general of Alternative Espace Citoyen and Halidou Mounkaila of the teachers’ union (SYNACEB) were arrested separately.
On 16 March, Maikoul Zodi, national coordinator of Tournons la Page (TLP), Moundi Moussa, a journalist, trade unionist, and member of TLP were also arrested.
On 17 Mach, Habibou Soumaila, the communications and information secretary of the regional branch of TLP Niger in Niamey was also arrested.
Moussa Tchangari, Halidou Mounkaila, Moundi Moussa, Maikoul Zodi, and Habibou Soumaila were charged with organizing an unauthorized gathering and complicity in damaging public property, arson, and manslaughter. Two other civil society members, Karim Tanko and Seyni Djibo were charged with participating in an unauthorized gathering and were released on bail.
On 19 March, Niger reported its first case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
On 20 March, they were transferred in separate prisons: Moussa Tchangari is detained in Tillabery prison (100 km from Niamey), Halidou Moukaila in Camp Penal of Dey Keyna (111 km from Niamey), Moudi Moussa in Kollo Prison (35 km from Niamey), Maikoul Zodi in Ouallam Prison (100 km from Niamey), Habibou Soumaila in Filingue Prison (160 km from Niamey). That same day, the Ministry of Justice declared in a press release that as a prevention measure, detainees are not allowed visits for three months.
Please join our members and supporters in demanding that access to their families and lawyers is guaranteed despite the prevention measures against COVID-19. They should at least give them regular and unrestricted access to means of contact like telephone, email, or video calls.
Send an email to the President of Niger to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic is not used to silence dissent voices and restrict liberties unnecessarily, disproportionally, and illegally.