Niger activist sentenced for Facebook swipe at president

President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou .  / AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL

President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou . / AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL

A leading Niger rights activist was given a six-month suspended sentence on Thursday for criticising President Mahamadou Issoufou’s handling of the Boko Haram threat in a Facebook post.

Abdoul Ousmane Moumouni was sentenced by a court in the capital Niamey for accusing Issoufou of a “trial-and-error” approach to the jihadist threat and saying he found himself wishing the army would take power.

“We’re going to appeal this verdict, which we are not happy about,” fellow activist Ousseini Abdoulaye Daouda told reporters.

The prosecutors had sought a six-month custodial sentence for Moumouni, head of a pro-democracy group, who was arrested on June 14 on charges of “conspiracy to plot constitutional change”.

After one of the deadliest cross-border attacks by Nigeria-based Boko Haram on June 3, in which 26 soldiers were killed, Moumouni posted a message on Facebook calling on the Niger army to act.

“In view of the seriousness of the situation and the supreme leader’s (Issoufou’s) trial-and-error approach, despite being a staunch defender of democracy, I find myself hoping that our army take its destiny and that of Niger’s people into its own hands,” he wrote.

Amnesty International said his sentence set “a dangerous precedent” for freedom of speech in Niger and called on the authorities to immediately drop all charges against the activist.

Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency has left at least 20,000 people dead in Nigeria and border areas of neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and made more than 2.6 million homeless.

Some 2,000 Chadian soldiers are set to launch a counter-offensive against the group in the region, as part of a fight back by the four countries targeted by the group.

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