“Civil space is on the verge of extinction in Niger”

Paris: Press conference for Democracy Caravan following the Tournons la Page movement. Here Maikoul Zodi, leader of the TLP Niger movement. October 2017

Maikoul Zodi, national coordinator of Tournons la Page, tells Mondafrique an eight-year methodical mouthpiece on civil society and he is concerned about its possible annihilation in the short term.

In a recently published report, the coalition (which brings together 17 organizations and activists) draws up a condemnatory statement of the harassment against civil society leaders, opponents, journalists and bloggers and describes the growing barriers to freedom of expression. association, assembly, expression and meaning in Niger. Tournons la Page condemns “an increasingly oppressive legal arsenal that calls into question fundamental rights, the country’s international obligations and the independence of justice.”

Mondafrique: what are the effects of this policy in your country?

MZ: Since 2014, 53 demonstrations have been banned, 1,091 people have been imprisoned in preventive detention, up to nineteen months. The Internet was shut down three times to limit media coverage of the impact. If nothing is done, the civic space will soon be completely closed in Niger. For the regime, there must be no vote other than their vote. We must impose the only thought, and every divergent voice must be mouthed. When they arrived, they found an already very hard legal arsenal, and they tried to further improve the restrictions for activists.

Mondafrique: what are the issues that led to these bans on demonstrations and these arrests?

MZ: It goes from the high cost of living to corruption, embezzlement of public funds, to insecurity, the presence of foreign troops in Niger. At the Pau summit in January 2020, President Mahamadou Issoufou told international media that he would not tolerate any demonstrations on his territory condemning the presence of French troops on the ground, and since then there have been no demonstrations. All demonstrations in general are systematically banned, even inland, although this right is guaranteed by the Constitution and international treaties.

Mondafrique: what are the goals of this oppression?

MZ: Human rights defenders, those who promote democracy, journalists and bloggers, opposition leaders and also religious leaders and trade unionists. All that is like opinion makers and politicians. As soon as someone tries to contradict the leaders of the country, he is considered an evil thinker and his place is in prison. They stigmatize them, intimidate them, and then imprison them. Justice is used to punish the evil mindset. In prison, they continue to punish us again, for harassing us, by arbitrarily restricting visits from families and lawyers.

Mondafrique: When he took office a year ago, President Bazoum Mohamed reached out to civil society. What did he tell you?

MZ: He succeeded in creating a framework for dialogue with civil society, and he received us three times in the Presidential Palace. He gave us three messages. First, he promised to reopen civilian space and ensure that no one will be harassed because of their opinion. He asked for our help in fighting corruption and embezzlement of public funds. Finally, he undertook to provide our defense and security forces with substantial resources to carry out their sovereign mission.

Mondafrique: did you take this outstretched hand?

MZ: Yes. But nothing came. On the contrary, it continues to get worse. A decree of February 2022 will exacerbate a priori and a posteriori control of associations, subjecting them to a very strict approval regime, yes censorship, which could lead to a ban on all those whose work the regime considers contrary to its interests. The amendment to the Cybercrime Act, which would have made it possible to send more journalists to prison, is not satisfactory. It even imposes fines of 2 million to 10 million CFA francs in a country where the majority of citizens live on less than a dollar a day! Another bill has been presented to the Assembly, ostensibly to protect human rights defenders, but in reality this text contains trick articles.

The president said none of us would be worried anymore. And yet, two of our comrades were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned and then released by the courts, one in Niamey and the other in Tessaoua. He undertook to allow us to demonstrate, and so far none of our demonstrations have received the mayor’s approval. With regard to the fight against corruption, no member of the ruling party has been concerned despite the Court’s recent report, which highlighted several people in the regime. President Bazoum is proud to have a minister arrested, but this minister comes from an allied political formation, not from the PNDS (Nigerian Party for Democracy and Socialism, in power). No militant from PNDS, no member of the circle of PNDS involved in these cases was concerned. Justice is selective justice.

Except for words and promises, nothing has changed. It is continuity.

Mondafrique: What about the procedures that were launched before the election of President Bazoum in 2021?

MZ: Many people are still undergoing procedures. My own case is before the Court of Appeal. Ali Idrissa has just received a summons to the referee. Many of us are on bail. Within civil society, there is always Ali Sambo, who is detained in the high-security prison in Koutoukalé. Among all the cases we cite in the report, some people arrested on the sidelines of the April 2021 election crisis are still detained. We do not know exactly how many there are, but several prominent political opponents are among them, including Hama Amadou[1]General Moumouni Boureima and the President of the Lumana Party of the Tillabéri Region.

Journalist Baba Alpha is still banned from entering Niger. He still can not return to his family, who are in Niamey to continue his life normally. It circulates like this from country to country without any papers because the princes who rule us have decided that it would be like that. Furthermore, Mohamed Bazoum is the architect behind this situation when he was Minister of the Interior.

Mondafrique: In your opinion, was Mohamed Bazoum sincere when he promised relaxation? And if so, what happens then?

MZ: He’s sincere, and he’s not sincere. Because he is powerless and he refuses to accept his powerlessness. When he met us, he told us that it was very difficult for him that certain political parties were stronger than him, that the corrupt and the corrupt were extremely strong people. He is sincere, but he can not.

He promised us relaxation, but we are still waiting for it. He promised to revive the National Council for Political Dialogue, but we are still waiting.

Bazoum is being taken hostage by the former president. Bazoum is haunted by the former president, who is running a third term in camouflage.

The people no longer need speeches. He’s past that stage. He needs concrete. Especially in the fight against terrorism. If the president is in good faith, he will have to try to clean up the environment, to put an end to the corruption that prevails in the Ministry of Defense. To ensure that the war effort reaches our soldiers. The first problem in the fight against terrorism is governance.

[1] Against bail in France for health reasons, but faces heavy criminal charges

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