Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.
From April to December, nine social media activists were either briefly detained, summoned, or arrested. In April Mohamedine Mohamed, a blogger, was arrested on the charge of working under the guise of a fake profile. On May 29, Bana Ibrahim Kaza, a young politician and blogger from Lumana-Africa, the largest opposition party, was detained for posting an article on his blog. On December 19, Kaocen Saidou Maiga was arrested for posting an article on social media about the December 10 terrorist attack in which 71 soldiers were killed at an army camp at Inates.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally subjected journalists and civil society activists to harassment apparently linked to their reporting. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.
On December 24, four members of the steering committee of the Association of Bloggers for Active Citizenship including its founder, Samira Sabou Ibrahim, were interrogated at the Passport Authority’s Office following a request they submitted in order to obtain an authorization for their association to operate legally in the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists reported sometimes encountering pressure against antigovernment speech. Public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.
On July 26, the Niamey High Court confirmed a verdict by the Court of Niamey finding the government culpable for the illegal closing of the Labari radio and television chain in March 2018. The Niamey High Court affirmed a 10 million CFA francs ($17,000) fine for damages and interest incurred by Labari. The government had one month to appeal the decision. The Labari press group was owned by Ali Idrissa, a civil society activist and coordinator of the Network of Organizations for Budgetary Transparency and Analysis, who accused the government of taking actions to silence him and his press.
National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency for a further three months at year’s end in these regions. Furthermore, the National Security Council, led by President Issoufou, issued a note prohibiting the use of motorcycles in the Tillabery Region and certain parts of Doso Region.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, Ali Tera, who was deported from the United States in April for overstaying his visa, was arrested based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention.
In June the National Assembly adopted a law intended to counter cybercriminality but regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders could face from six months to three years in prison and pay a fine ranging from one to five million CFA francs ($1,700 to $8,500). Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.
The government proposed a new system for government appointment of university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff. Through May teachers held strikes at public universities across the country, demanding the continuation of the election process within the university system and the payment of several months of unpaid salaries. In April the National Assembly passed the government’s proposed system. On May 23, however, the National Union of Higher Education Teachers (SNECS) asked its members to suspend strikes following a memorandum of understanding signed with the government.
The Minister of Higher Education Yahouza Sadissou, and the Secretary General of SNECS Na-Balla Adare, agreed to enter discussion on all points raised by SNECS. The minister also agreed to return the payroll deductions for strike action by SNECS activists and to pay backlogged salaries for teacher researchers by August 2020.
The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice.
On December 26, the Niamey Special Delegate’s Office, acting in its capacity of mayor, issued a statement banning a peaceful protest scheduled for December 29 by a coalition of civil society associations against recurring deadly terrorist attacks in the country and the presence of foreign military troops. The mayor justified the ban noting fears of outbreak of social upheaval. Civil society members planned to express their frustration with the government for the December 10 terrorist attack at the military camp in Inates in which 71 soldiers were killed. Despite the stated ban, a peaceful protest took place.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government respected most of these rights.
In September the National Agency to Fight Against Trafficking in Persons organized a meeting with various courts, attorneys general, and appropriate officials from the Ministries of Justice and Interior to review the nation’s legal framework addressing trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling, and other irregular migration.
In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated there were more than 104,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Diffa Region, with almost 190,000 nationally, and 29,954 returnees displaced because of Boko Haram-instigated violence. These IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the region. The government worked with foreign donors, international aid organizations, and NGOs to supply IDPs with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. In December 2018 the National Assembly adopted a law based on the 2009 African Union Kampala Convention for the protection and assistance of persons fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which would primarily benefit IDPs.
Intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders in northern Tillabery Region, combined with banditry and attacks by terrorist groups, resulted in population displacement. At the end of November, UNHCR reported approximately 55,030 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and 22,925 in the Tahoua Region.
As of June between 20,000 and 60,000 refugees entered Maradi Region, fleeing violence in the Zamfara and Sokoto States of Nigeria.
As of year’s end, UNHCR managed three refugee camps in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) and one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane), where refugees could settle freely with their livestock and thus maintain their traditional pastoral way of life. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the IDPs mentioned above, there were an estimated 56,500 Malian refugees in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions. UNHCR also managed one refugee camp in the Diffa Region with 14,500 refugees. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the 104,000 IDPs, there were more than 119,000 Nigerian refugees in the Diffa Region. More than 88 percent of refugees in the Diffa Region resided outside of formal camps.
A tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Niger and Mali, signed in 2014, provides a legal framework for voluntary returns respecting international standards. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive to returns in safety and dignity and therefore return was not being promoted.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa Region were vulnerable to armed attacks and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they may harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.
Refoulement: In early May 2018, the government arrested and deported to Libya 132 Sudanese nationals without a deportation process or opportunity for appeal. These deportees were among a loose grouping of approximately 2,000 Sudanese migrants who, over the course of several weeks, had moved into Agadez and surrounding areas from Libya, where they had likely also been looking for work. UNHCR worked with the government to reconfirm the government’s commitment to allow those potentially seeking protection the time and space for their cases to be considered, and by May the government approved the asylum requests of the remaining Sudanese.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.
The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing Niger to return to their countries of origin.