| NGOs demand the release of 26 activists in Niger

Ten international NGOs including Amnesty International and Oxfam called on Friday for the release of 26 civil society activists detained since March after a banned demonstration in Niamey.

A joint statement published on Oxfam‘s website called on “the authorities in Niger to ease the situation by releasing the detainees and bring an end to the prosecutions”.

Adama Coulibaly, Oxfam‘s regional director for West Africa, said in the statement: “This situation is of deep concern for international human rights and development organisations who believe that widening the civic space does not impinge on the government, but instead allow citizens to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities.”

The majority of the 26 detainees, including three leaders of civil society organisations, were arrested on 25 March after banned clashes in Niamey between police and protesters, who say new taxes are “antisocial”.

The 26 were prosecuted for “organisation and participation in a forbidden march” and “complicity in degrading public and private property,” according to their lawyers.

On May 11, their lawyers denounced the slowness in the judicial process and said that they had filed with the prosecutor a complaint over the “arbitrary detention” of their clients.

All the defendants were eventually heard between 14 and 17 May by an investigating judge in the presence of lawyers.

Since October 2017 and the preparation of the 2018 budget, elements of civil society, the political opposition and some unions have regularly organised demonstrations to demand “the abrogation” of the finance law.

The economy of the largely desert country has been hit by falling prices for oil, which it officially began exporting in 2011, and uranium, of which it is a major exporter.

The government says it is cash-strapped as it has to spend resources to combat attacks by Boko Haram, whose Islamist insurgency has spilled over from Nigeria, as well as from jihadists, including the Islamic State group, near the border with Mali.

Finance Minister Hassoumi Massadou said in February that the 2018 budget would “barely affect” people in the countryside, where more than 80 percent of Niger‘s 20 million people live.

The 10 NGOs are: Oxfam, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Publiez Ce Que Vous Payez (Publish What You Pay), Tournons La Page (Let‘s Turn the Page), FIDH/OMCT, West Africa civil society Institute, Centre for civil and Political rights, CIVICUS, and West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network.

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