Niger: Fight against Boko Haram not an excuse to violate free speech

Niger must immediately release a human rights defender arrested after he criticised the indictment of six village leaders for “failure to cooperate” with the authorities in the fight against Boko Haram, Amnesty International said today.

Moussa Tchangari, Secretary-General of the human rights organization, Alternative Citizen Spaces (Alternatives Espaces Citoyens, AEC), was arrested in the capital Niamey on Monday 18 May by members of Niger’s anti-terrorist brigade. He was visiting the six village leaders, detained in Niamey since Friday.

Boko Haram attacks have created instability in the Diffa region of south-east Niger. Last month, members of Boko Haram attacked an island on Lake Chad causing many deaths, including civilians and soldiers. The situation prompted the government to evacuate people from the islands situated along the lake. AEC published two reports regarding allegations of attacks against civilians during the evacuation period.

The fight against Boko Haram and national security requirements must not be an excuse for arrests, which lack a solid legal basis and do not respect human rights. Arbitrary arrests and detention without charge should not be the weapons used to silence those who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression

Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International researcher for West Africa.

“The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and expressing an opinion on the charges held against the six village leaders must not lead to the arrest of an individual. The Nigerien authorities must immediately release Moussa Tchangari.”

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, Moussa Tchangari has not been charged but is being held in the anti-terrorist brigade’s station.

The governor of Diffa ordered a state of emergency in February 2015, which prohibits two-wheeled vehicles circulating both day and night. According to information received by Amnesty International, this has prevented people from moving freely and has also prevented some farmers from exporting their products to markets within the country.

The AEC criticized the Niger authorities for taking these measures, which have been prejudicial towards local populations and also violate provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Amnesty International urges the authorities to protect displaced civilians from the islands in Lake Chad and to take all measures necessary for reception and resettlement, in dignified conditions and without any violation of their fundamental rights.