By Aurore Bonny
DOUALA, Cameroon (AA) - Local and international human rights defenders issued a joint statement Tuesday denouncing the arbitrary detention and provisional release of five human rights defenders in Niger who were participating in a “citizens’ caravan of democracy” in the capital Niamey.
"The five human rights defenders were provisionally released on bail after 60 hours in police custody under difficult conditions and after strong international mobilization. They were charged with unlawful assembly," said Amnesty International.
Nigeriens Armadan Moussa, Biliyaminou Idi, Mubarak Habou and Hima Hamani, who belong to a local branch of the organization called Agir ensemble pour les droits humains (Acting together for human rights), were "arbitrarily arrested by the police and placed in custody at the central police station in Niamey, it said.
They were taking part in an activity to raise awareness on human rights among residents on Dec. 10, 2021, International Human Rights Day.
Mathieu Pourchier, a French member of the local branch of the organization Tournons la page (TLP), or Let’s Turn the Page, was "violently arrested" on the same day "by four plainclothes police officers while riding his motorcycle in the city," Amnesty International added.
All five were charged with "unlawful assembly" and were provisionally released on Dec. 12 and are not allowed to leave the city without informing the authorities in advance, it said.
They "should never have been imprisoned in the first place, as their detention was arbitrary and was only intended to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities," it added.
Along with several other organizations that signed the memorandum released today, it called on the Nigerien authorities to cease judicial and administrative proceedings against the five activists.
The human rights defenders also called for an end to "all practices of harassment against members of civil society" as well as the guarantee in all circumstances of freedom and the right to peaceful assembly and liberty.
Protests are not always accepted in the West African country.
"Since 2018, more than 34 civil society demonstrations have been rejected by local authorities," a spokesperson for the TLP told Anadolu Agency by phone, citing the most recent of the banned demonstrations -- one it wanted to organize on Dec. 5, 2021 against foreign military bases in the country.
"The ban was imposed by Niamey's mayor on the pretext of the risk of disturbing public order," the spokesperson added.