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 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.
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.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government respected most of these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants.
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.
Citizenship: On April 3, journalist Baba Alpha was deported to neighboring Mali, where his father was born, without the benefit of a deportation hearing. A Niamey court had convicted him in July 2017, together with his father, of using fraudulent documents to obtain a Nigerien passport. The two were sentenced to two years in prison and had their Nigerien citizenship rights revoked. Free speech activists widely held that Baba Alpha was singled out due to his antigovernment radio and television broadcasts on the Bonferey station and that his crime, while possibly real, represented a common practice for obtaining a passport in a region with little birth documentation. An appeals court cancelled the first court’s removal of Alpha’s Nigerien citizenship privileges (Alpha was born in Niger, but did not automatically derive Nigerien citizenship), but security forces deported him to Mali immediately upon his release from prison. Alpha did not have Malian citizenship.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
UNHCR estimated there were more than 104,000 IDPs in Diffa Region and 25,700 returnees displaced as a consequence of Boko Haram-instigated violence. These IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the region. Heavy seasonal rains left several thousand individuals homeless in July and August throughout the country. 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. On December 3, the National Assembly adopted a law based on the 2009 African Union Kampala Convention for the protection and assistance of people fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which will primarily benefit IDPs.
Refugees and IDPs in Diffa Region were vulnerable to armed attacks and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by Boko Haram.
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 36,000 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and 16,000 in the Tahoua Region.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
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 58,000 Malian refugees in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions. By the end of November, 2,358 newly arrived Malian refugees were reported, while 3,082 Malian refugees returned from Niger to Mali throughout the year. UNHCR also managed one refugee camp in Diffa Region with 14,500 refugees. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the 104,000 IDPs, there were more than 118,000 Nigerian refugees in Diffa Region. More than 88 percent of refugees in 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.
In early May 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 Niger’s commitment to allow those potentially seeking protection the time and space for their cases to be considered.
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 country gave temporary protection status to persons mostly of Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somali origin rescued by UNHCR from detention camps in Libya where conditions included institutionalized torture. Approximately 1,500 persons rescued from Libya received temporary protection in Niger while they underwent a status determination and third-country resettlement process.
The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing Niger to return to their countries of origin. During the first eight months of the year, IOM reported assisting 11,936 migrants to return to their home countries, most often Nigeria or other countries in West Africa.
In the first 10 months of the year, IOM reported assisting approximately 18,000 migrants expelled from Algeria under a program of nontolerance for irregular migrants. Of these, approximately 13,000 Nigerien migrants were returned through an agreement between the two governments that included advanced notification and official transportation into Niger. Algeria returned the remaining 5,000 migrants, most from third countries in West Africa, without advanced communications or logistical support. IOM supported them with humanitarian and relocation assistance.
The UN special rapporteur for the human rights of refugees flagged the Algerian practice of dropping migrants at the Nigerien border as life-threatening and praised Niger’s assistance to these migrants. He also reported some were victims of antimigration sweeps within Algeria and were moved quickly to the Nigerien border without an opportunity for appeal.