(This report covers the period January-December 1997) Scores of opposition party supporters were detained, many of them prisoners of conscience. Prisoners of conscience were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials. The security forces were reportedly responsible for torture and extrajudicial executions. An armed opposition group took unarmed civilians as hostages. The political deadlock stemming from the 1996 military coup that overthrew the government of elected President Mahamane Ousmane (see Amnesty International Report 1997) continued throughout the year. Negotiations between the government and the opposition started in late January but soon reached an impasse after one of the conditions demanded by opposition leaders – the dissolution of the National Assembly – was rejected by President Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara. There were also sporadic clashes in the east between the security forces and an armed opposition group, the Front démocratique révolutionnaire (fdr), Democratic Revolutionary Front   The opposition coalition, the Front pour la restauration et la défense de la démocratie (frdd), Front for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy, organized several demonstrations. A demonstration in the capital, Niamey, in January, was violently dispersed by the security forces. Tear-gas was used and at least 20 people were beaten. A few hours later, leaders of the three main opposition parties were arrested: former President Ousmane, of the Convention démocratique et sociale, Democratic Social Convention; Mahamadou Issoufou, of the Parti nigérien pour la démocratie et le socialisme, Party for Democracy and Socialism of Niger; and Mamadou Tandja of the Mouvement national pour la société de développement, National Movement for the Society of Development. Over the following days, the security forces arrested at least 100 more opposition party supporters and the government announced the reintroduction of the State Security Court, established in 1974 but unused since 1990. The procedures of this court allow incommunicado pre-trial detention (garde à vue) for up to two months, and defendants have no right of appeal to a higher court. In the event, the government did not re-establish the State Security Court, and released without charge all those detained in connection with the demonstration after about 10 days. Most or all of them were prisoners of conscience. The authorities also detained people who criticized the government. Souleye Oumarou, a lawyer, was detained for three days in January on fraud charges. He was one of a group of lawyers who planned to bring a suit against President Maïnassara for overthrowing the elected President in January 1996. El Hadj Bagnou Bonkoukou, President of the Ligue nigérienne de défense des droits de l'homme, Human Rights Defence League of Niger, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in October for criticizing the President of Niger in an interview published in a newspaper in Burkina Faso. He was provisionally released in December. Two unfair and politically motivated trials led to the conviction of several prisoners of conscience. In March, nine people were sentenced to two months' imprisonment for "unlawful armed assembly" after an unfair trial held in camera using summary procedures. They had been arrested after an opposition demonstration that had been banned by the authorities, but most had not participated in the demonstration In April, 22 trade unionists were tried on charges of sabotage. Several were arrested after an anti-privatization strike in March that deprived Niamey of electricity. Two trade unionists were sentenced to two years' imprisonment and two others were sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Although acquitted, the other 18 trade unionists remained in detention following a prosecution appeal against the verdict. In March military personnel wrecked the premises of an independent radio station, Radio Anfani. Two weeks later, five of the radio station's employees, including its general manager, Gremah Boucar, were arrested. Three were released, but Gremah Boucar and Harouna Issoufou, the night-watchman who had witnessed the attack, were charged with fraud and accused of ransacking the radio station themselves. They were conditionally released and Gremah Boucar publicly apologized to the army for having lodged a complaint. Uniformed members of the security forces, acting under orders or on their own initiative, seized and tortured political opponents of the government. In February Elhadj Oumarou Oubandawaki, an frdd member, was seized by six uniformed police officers, who beat him and then abandoned him outside Niamey. He lost several teeth in the attack and suffered a broken arm. In April Souley Adji, an academic, was seized by four men, one of whom was in military uniform. He was stripped naked and beaten unconscious. There were apparently no investigations into these incidents. The security forces were reported to have extrajudicially executed unarmed civilians in eastern regions where the fdr armed opposition group was active. The victims were apparently killed because they belonged to the Toubou ethnic group. For example, Hassane Ali, a former local government official, was arrested by gendarmes on 27 May, released, then seized by soldiers a day later. He died shortly afterwards, apparently as a reult of torture. There was apparently no inquiry into his death. The fdr reportedly took unarmed civilians hostage, including a Canadian aid worker who was held for four months In May Amnesty International published Niger: Harassment of government opponents has become systematic, in which it urged the authorities to put an end to human rights violations committed with impunity by its security forces. Amnesty International also called on the government not to reactivate the State Security Court and to ensure that trials by ordinary courts met international standards for fair trial.

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