On Saturday 15 June, the Al-Jazeera West Africa correspondent Yvonne Ndege, and her 3-man crew were arrested in Niger. According to information posted on the Al-Jazeera website:
The team was initially detained at around 9.00 (GMT) on Saturday, questioned, and asked to hand over the material from a story they were filming about refugees.
The four were then interrogated for about ten hours before being officially arrested and charged with espionage, with no evidence being presented to support the charges.
…the authorities confiscated the team’s passports, filming equipment and personal belongings before putting them in a shared cell without food or water.
On Sunday, the Attorney General said that there was no evidence against them and the team was free to go, while the police headquarters said the filmed footage was cleared for release.
Within an hour of this order being given, the team was detained again without charge and the filming equipment was once again confiscated.
The team was eventually released, according to Premium Times:
“The four-person team was released late on Monday evening without charge to make way back to the border into Nigeria,” Kevin Kriedmann, a spokesperson of Aljazeera disclosed in a press release early Tuesday.
As for the reason behind their arrest, The Washington Post reports the team was arrested on charges by the Nigerien government that they failed to get proper accreditation:
Niger’s government spokesman said the group was filming illegally, having entered the country with only a visa. Journalists in Niger are required to also apply for an authorization from the ministry of communication, said spokesman Marou Amadou, who is also the country’s justice minister. He denied that the team had been held, saying only that their material was seized and inspected.
However, the reason for the detention may not be unconnected with the story the Al-Jazeera team was covering, about thousands of refugees fleeing across the border into Niger, from neighbouring Nigeria. The Nigerian government declared a State of Emergency on 14 May and launched a military operation to flush out the Boko Haram insurgents in their stronghold states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Borno state in particular shares a border with Niger.
Here is the first footage of the reportage by Al-Jazeera on the refugees in Niger:
So far, Al-Jazeera is one of the few media agencies (among both local and international media) that has covered the plight of refugees fleeing these areas. Mobile communication networks have been switched off in these states since the military operation started, and thus, there’s little information coming out, and the little that does, is heavily controlled and determined by the Nigerian Army.
What I find more disturbing is the Nigerian government’s hasty dismissal of these refugees as citizens of Niger “fleeing” back to their country, and not Nigerians, even though it is common knowledge that when conflict erupts in an area, the residents tend to leave for somewhere safer until the conflict abates. Agence France Presse (AFP) has also reported on the plight of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, fleeing the military offensive in the North-East.
This hasty dismissal by the Nigerian government, along with the knee-jerk response by the Nigerien authorities confounds the situation further.