Niger president denounces 'unjustified fuss' over detained activists

The majority of the 26 detainees were arrested on March 25 after protesting new taxes they consider antisocial, which led to clashes with police.
The majority of the 26 detainees were arrested on March 25 after protesting new taxes they consider antisocial, which led to clashes with police.
Image: 123rf/ Allan Swart

The president of Niger accused foreign NGOs of making an "unjustified fuss" over 26 civil society activists who have been held since March after a banned demonstration in Niamey.

"I would like to reassure you, Madam; Niger is a democratic country" which upholds "the rule of law," President Mahamadou Issoufou told a Radio France International journalist after meeting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

"RFI, please don't apply double standards: be objective," he continued. "We're not asking you to support us, and we're not asking you to drag us down."

The majority of the 26 detainees were arrested on March 25 after protesting new taxes they consider antisocial, which led to with police.

Amnesty International and Oxfam were among 10 NGOs calling for their release and "an end to their prosecutions" last month.

But Issoufou said the activists had flouted a ban against protesting at midnight when authorities were unable to ensure security "in the current situation".

"We applied the law," he said, claiming "the same thing would have been done in Paris, Washington, Rome, Berlin or London."

He also declared himself "a convinced democrat", assuring that he would not seek a new term in 2021 after being re-elected to a second and final term in 2016.

Regarding his country's participation in the G5 Sahel force to combat Islamic militants across the region, Issoufou called for increased funding for the 5,000-member force.

France has helped garner pledges totalling 420 million euros ($490 million) to pay for the soldiers from Niger alongside Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania.

"The 420 million euros will finance the force for a year," he said.

"We need to be thinking about looking for sources of financing for the other years."

Issoufou also said two aid workers taken hostage were still alive, saying they were probably being held in Mali.

Jorg Lange, a German, was seized in April in western Niger, before being taken north toward Mali.

An American, Jeffery Woodke, was kidnapped in October 2016 in the Tahoua region, about 350 kilometres (215 miles) northwest of Niamey.

"We've had news, we know they are alive," Issoufou told France 24 television later Monday. "We continue to work at creating the conditions for their release."

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