Covering events from January - December 2003
More than 200 soldiers, arrested following a failed mutiny in August 2002, remained in detention without trial. Three gendarmes were sentenced to prison terms for torture. Slavery, still prevalent in Niger, was made a punishable crime. As in previous years, there were attempts to restrict freedom of expression.
Enacted in late 2002, the new Military Code of Justice, which established a court martial specifically to try the soldiers arrested after the 2002 mutiny, continued to raise human rights concerns. Despite protests by local human rights organizations at the Code's failure to meet international human rights standards, the Constitutional Court in February rejected a challenge by opposition parties to the constitutionality of the Code.
Detention without trial
More than 200 soldiers, arrested after the 2002 mutiny was quelled, were still in detention without trial at the end of 2003. In May police dispersed their relatives, mainly women, when they began a sit-in in the capital, Niamey. The demonstrators were complaining that most detainees had been held for months without being questioned by an investigating judge. Families did not know their place of detention in many cases. According to the authorities, 52 of the soldiers had been released in May, but no list was made public.
In April, two shepherds from the Peul community, brothers Hama and Salou Abdoulaye, were severely tortured by three gendarmes who arrested them after a bicycle theft in Dogon, western Niger. The brothers' injuries were so severe that their forearms and feet later had to be amputated. In May a court in Niamey sentenced the senior officer to two years' imprisonment and his two subordinates to 18 months. The victims lodged an appeal on the grounds that the sentences were too light.
In May the National Assembly unanimously adopted a new Penal Code which, for the first time, made slavery a crime punishable by 10 to 30 years' imprisonment. Traditional chiefs had pledged to eradicate the practice at an International Labour Organization (ILO) forum in Niger in 2001. Local human rights organizations welcomed the measure as a move towards punishing the perpetrators of the practice.
Freedom of expression
- In February the government ordered the closure of Nomade FM, a privately-owned radio station, for "inciting rebellion". On a radio program, two former Tuareg rebels had criticized the government for not fulfilling its commitment under the peace agreements to reintegrate former rebels into society. The station was allowed to reopen two weeks later.
- In October Moussa Tchangari, managing editor of a private weekly newspaper, Alternative, was detained for two days for allegedly inciting a student protest to demand better living and working conditions. The journalist was released without charge.
- In November, Maman Abou, a prominent human rights defender and editor of Le Républicain, the leading newspaper in Niamey, was arrested and imprisoned for publishing information critical of government officials. He was a prisoner of conscience. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for allegedly libelling the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, but his trial failed to respect national or international fair trial standards. He was not questioned and could not challenge his accusers, who said he had obtained confidential documents by theft. He had no legal representation at his trial and was sentenced in his absence. His lawyer lodged an appeal but Maman Abou was still held at the end of the year.
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