Rights group, CIVICUS, has called for the unconditional release of three Nigeriens, who were jailed after participating in peaceful protests calling for investigations into misappropriation of public funds by the Ministry of Defence in the Republic of Niger.

Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maikoul Zodi were arrested between March 15 to 17, 2020 after security forces violently disrupted peaceful anti-corruption protests in the nation's capital, Niamey.

CIVICUS in a statement on Tuesday alongside Amnesty International, Publish What You Pay, Oxfam Niger, Tournons la Page International, and Front Line Defenders called on the Government of Niger to unconditionally release the activists in the interest of human rights.

The statement reads, “Authorities had placed a blanket ban on all demonstrations on 13 March, as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. At least three people were killed as a result of the violence and several properties were damaged. The trumped-up charges against them include “organizing an unauthorized gathering”, arson, damage to public property and manslaughter.

“At least 15 activists were arrested, with six of them being remanded in detention. Three of the detainees were provisionally released in May but Moudi, Halidou and Maikoul are still arbitrarily detained despite being granted bail of 5 million Francs (approximately US$9200) on 6 August.  The prosecutor successfully appealed the decision and they are now being held in three separate prisons.  

“Moudi Moussa is a journalist and trade unionist, Halidou Mounkaila is the leader of the teacher’s union SYNACEB and Maikoul Zodi is the National Coordinator of the Tournons La Page global movement. All three human rights defenders are members of the PWYP coalition. They are also profiled in the CIVICUS campaign #StandAsMyWitness, which raises awareness of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders around the world and calls for their release.

“Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”

Concern is growing about Niger’s crackdown on human rights as it increasingly targets activists, harass journalists and clampdown on peaceful protesters. 

In June, the country was added to the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List to track rights violations.

CIVICUS noted that, “On 10 June, 2020, journalist and blogger Samira Sabou, was arrested in Niamey and charged with defamation in connection with a social media post highlighting corruption. According to fellow human rights defenders, her arrest is linked to a post on social media on 26 May 2020, in which she referred to an audit of the Ministry of Defence regarding overcharging and embezzlement during the purchase of military equipment for the army. One of the comments below the post criticised the President’s son in relation to the audit, although Samira Sabou did not mention the son in her post. On 28 July, she was discharged by the High Court of Niamey on the grounds of ‘unconstituted offences’ and released the same day.

“On 12 July, journalist Ali Soumana was summoned by the police, interrogated, and accused of false information for comments made about alleged corruption. Some journalists have also been arrested and detained for reporting on the authorities’ response to COVID-19. In May, the National Assembly enacted a new law that allows the authorities to intercept telephone conversations as part of the state’s response to combat terrorism and transnational crime without the appropriate human rights safeguards, including the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.”

David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns lead at CIVICUS, said the charges against the activist and journalists, which ranges from arson to manslaughter, are all trumped up, targeted at undermining the demand by citizens for accountability in Niger.

He said, “Over the last eight months, we have seen a surge in human rights violations by the Nigerien authorities including intimidation and harassment of human rights activists, defenders, and journalists. It is a travesty that Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi are still in jail simply for protesting against alleged misuse of defence funds. They should all be released immediately and unconditionally."

Samira Daoud, Regional Director, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Office, said, “We believe charges against the activists related to complicity in damaging public property, arson, and manslaughter, are fabricated to undermine the peaceful exercise of their human rights and demands for transparency and accountability."

The organisations are concerned about the prolonged detention of human rights defenders on baseless charges. 

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