Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of sometimes executing persons believed to be fighting with extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. There was evidence in Tillabery Region that the government allowed Malian militia groups to operate in Nigerien territory and may have at times collaborated with or provided limited material and logistical support to them. Malian militia groups the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and GATIA were accused of committing human rights abuses on Nigerien soil, including kidnapping and killing persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups.
The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported receiving several complaints about arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces and to Malian militias operating within conflict areas of the country. The CNDH had limited resources to investigate the complaints.
Armed terrorist groups including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).
There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both Tillabery and Diffa Regions. For example, unidentified sources alleged that soldiers detained some youths who returned to a town in the Diffa area the day after it had been the focus of a Boko Haram attack, and the youths were reportedly not seen again.
There were also several instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g). For example, unidentified armed persons kidnapped the mother and sister of a parliamentarian in the Diffa Region on September 3. The kidnappers released the two on September 16, probably after the payment of a ransom.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and abused civilians, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government claimed to investigate. For example, the government reported that the state prosecutor was investigating three rapes attributed to agents of local security forces in the Diffa Region.
There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region would harass or detain citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.
As of October the CNDH, to the extent that resources allowed, was investigating allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances. The government and military reportedly also investigated these accusations, although no information was available on their conclusions.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: The government reported in October there were 39 prisons designed to hold 10,005 persons. According to the government, prisons held 9,570 inmates; however, human rights observers stated that overcrowding remained a widespread problem. For example, in Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards. Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters that were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes, although they held some juvenile prisoners with adult prisoners. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, and tuberculosis, but no statistics were available.
Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers.
Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted monitoring visits during the year.
Improvements: The Ministry of Justice stated that access to fresh water had improved in some prisons. The government built two new detention centers in the Maradi Region.
The ICRC worked with local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa Regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits detention without charge for more than 48 hours, but police occasionally violated these provisions. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for a longer period. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency (SoE) declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery (most recently expanding the SoE to three new parts of Tillabery on November 30 and renewing the SoE in all existing areas on December 17). On November 30, the council of ministers declared a new SoE in three additional departments of Tillabery (Torodi, Tera, and Say). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.
Police effectiveness was limited due to a lack of basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, and other investigatory and law enforcement equipment. Patrols outside of Niamey were sporadic. Police training was minimal, and only specialized police units had advanced weapon-handling skills. National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. A law passed in 2017 created a specialized cadre of prison police, and the police system had reportedly launched a first round of training but had not fully implemented the law. Citizens complained security forces did not adequately police border regions, remote rural areas, and major cities. Corruption remained a problem.
The gendarmerie and the police inspector general are responsible for the investigation of police abuses; nevertheless, police impunity remained a problem.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution and law require arrest warrants. The law allows individuals to be detained for 48 hours without charge and an additional 48 hours if police need more time to gather evidence, although authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. Under the Terrorism Law, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 10 days, extendable once for an additional 10 days. This 10-day period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism; terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region may spend days or weeks in custody before officials transport them to Niamey. Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of funds prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and other security force members sometimes rounded up persons accused of being members of, or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see section 1.g.). In 2015-16, following the government’s implementation of a SoE in Diffa, the security forces used their authority to arrest at least 1,400 individuals for violating state-of-emergency restrictions and curfews, or in response to denunciations. Lacking investigations and evidence, most of these prisoners remained in detention, mostly in Kollo Prison in Niamey far from their families, until the government prioritized a trial procedure starting in 2017. The cases of approximately 800 individuals had been brought to trial by the end of the year, with many trials leading to acquittal for lack of evidence.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Although the law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 30 months for serious crimes and 12 months for less serious offenses (with special extensions in certain sensitive cases, including terrorist-related offenses), some detainees waited as long as five years to be tried. A majority of prisoners were awaiting trial, with one nongovernmental organization (NGO) stating the percentage was as high as 75 percent. Judicial inefficiency, inadequate resources, staff shortages, corruption, and executive branch interference lengthened pretrial detention periods. Civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to irregular implementation of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.
Saidou Bakari, Ide Kalilou, and Mallah Ari, all associated with the main opposition party the Democratic Movement for an African Federation (MODEN-FA Lumana), were arrested in 2016 on allegations of misappropriating humanitarian assistance in 2005. At the end of the year, they remained in jail awaiting trial, despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a gendarmerie investigation commissioned by the government.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections.
Customary courts and traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil issues. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.
Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of Islamic traditions, heads these courts. Formal law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.
The law affirms the presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.
Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of jurisdictions, staff shortages, and lack of resources were common.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated during the year. Saidou Bakari and Ide Kalilou, members of the leading opposition party, and Mallah Ari, an assistant to the president of the leading opposition party, have been jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. Critics alleged their continued jailing was political in nature.
The trial of 11 military officers and one civilian arrested in 2015 on accusations of plotting a coup concluded on January 26, with 15-year sentences for the three alleged leaders of the coup plot, General Souleymane Salou, Lieutenant Ousmane Awal Hambaly, and Captain Issa Amadou Kountche.
The court gave five- and 10-year sentences to six other soldiers. The court acquitted two soldiers and gave the single civilian in the case, Niandou Salou, son of accused ringleader General Salou, five years in prison. All of the charges linked those found guilty to “fomenting between November and December 2015 a conspiracy to attack the authority or security of the state.” Critics alleged that the government fabricated the coup attempt to justify the arrest, along with these 12 persons tried in 2018, of virtually all the opposition leaders in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, most of whom were eventually released without charge.
Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may also appeal decisions to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state-of-emergency provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened journalists and members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.
The CNDH expressed concern over attacks on freedom of expression. International human rights-related NGOs–including Publish What You Pay, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, and Oxfam–also issued statements of concern, related to the detention of civil society activists. The Association of West African Journalists issued a statement in August about the closure of media outlets for alleged nonpayment of taxes.
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. The owner of an opposition television station reported being regularly called in to the government communications office for running content critical of the government, although no punitive measures were taken. Opposition media outlets also complained of a disproportionate number of tax audits.
On January 15, at a Niamey high school where students were reportedly planning a protest against education shortcomings, the National Guard briefly confiscated the camera of a private television station, Tenere TV, and deleted footage of alleged security violence toward the student planners. Media representatives said National Guard soldiers also confiscated and damaged a Labari TV camera following a violent altercation with the camera operator, Chaibou Guisso.
On September 17, the Tax Office (Direction Generale des Impots–DGI) confiscated publishing materials from and closed the combined offices of opposition newspapers Le Courrier, Le Canard en Furie, and Le Monde d’Aujourd’hui in connection with a 10-million West African CFA francs (CFA) ($18,000) tax bill allegedly owed by Le Courrier. The paper’s owner and publisher, Ali Soumana,, faced charges dating to June 2017 for the illicit procurement of court documents related to the so-called Uraniumgate scandal, which alleged that high-placed government officials used an offshore account to profit from Niger’s state uranium mining company. DGI also closed six television stations and two newspapers for tax nonpayment in July. Although most reopened quickly, two opposition television stations remained closed for more than a month before they were able to negotiate resolution with the tax office.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted there were topics that 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.
National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over the media for security reasons.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but it did monitor online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, civil society organization leaders Moussa Tchangari and Nouhou Arzika had posted on their Facebook pages that there would be a demonstration on March 25 in spite of the government’s ban. Prosecutors used these postings as a basis for the arrest of Tchangari and Arzika on March 25 on charges they had encouraged participation in an illegal demonstration.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 10 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government proposed a new system for government appointment of university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff. By year’s end the proposal had not been put into practice. The unions representing university teachers, staff, and student unions went on strike or boycotted regularly during the year to protest lack of salary payments, poor facilities, shortage of books and supplies, unpaid stipends, and other issues. Five student leaders at Niamey’s Abdou Moumouni University were expelled on March 17 following a February 7 altercation between a teacher and elements of the Student Union’s Social and Security Committee (CASO), a group that provided self-appointed security services at the university. In response to violent student demonstrations that ensued, the government closed universities nationwide from April 23 through resolution of the conflict on May 15.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
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.
There were several instances of police restrictions and government bans on protests. On April 18, students blocked the road to the main campus of Niamey’s Abdou Moumouni University to demand reinstatement of the five senior student leaders who had been expelled on March 17. Police intervened with tear gas, and according to the union, 32 protesters were injured and six hospitalized, including one in critical condition (numbers of injured were not reliably reported in the press, and independent verification of the extent and seriousness of the injuries was not available). An official government announcement noted damage to six vehicles and university offices. On April 23, the government declared that university campuses nationwide would remain closed until CASO, accused of general and long-term violence and misconduct, was disbanded. Negotiations led to reopening the university on May 15 without the disbanding of CASO.
The government regularly banned planned civil society-organized gatherings from April to August. Municipal authorities often denied official permission for opposition demonstrations and rallies without responding to organizers’ requests within the 48-hour timeline required by regulations. There was an instance in Maradi where the government did not implement a court order that supported the organizers’ right to protest.
On March 23, the government banned a civil society protest of new tax laws planned for March 25. Organizers encouraged their supporters to demonstrate despite the ban, arguing the constitution gave them a right to protest. On the morning of March 25, before the protest had begun, police arrested two civil society leaders at their offices: Moussa Tchangari and Ali Idrissa. Later in the day, activist Nouhou Arzika was arrested at his lawyer’s office, and television commentator Lirwana Abdourahamane was arrested at Labari Television after making a call for individuals to stand up for their rights. Authorities shuttered the television station for five days. Police arrested another 19 demonstrators the same day, charging them with organizing or participating in an illegal demonstration, damaging property, acts of violence and assault, and assault and battery.
The group of 23 went to trial in July after four months of pretrial detention. On July 24, a Niamey judge convicted the four civil society leaders of inciting a banned protest and gave them three-month suspended jail sentences. The judge acquitted 11 of the defendants and found another eight guilty of participating in a banned protest, sentencing them to one year in prison, with six months suspended.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
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. Police on several occasions, without a legal warrant, blocked access to offices of the NGO Alternative Citizen Spaces in Niamey and Zinder. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.