[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
March to free Niger's slave pair
Timidria President Ilguilas Weila (copyright: Anti-Slavery International)
Mr Weila is the head of Niger's anti-slavery organisation Timidria
Some 2,000 people have marched through the centre of the Niger capital, Niamey, to demand the release of two anti-slave campaigners.

Ilguilas Weila and Alassane Biga have spent more than two weeks in custody.

They deny charges of attempted fraud, by allegedly trying to falsely elicit money from foreign donors.

The charges relate to a ceremony to free 7,000 slaves, cancelled at the last minute in March by the government, which maintains slavery does not exist.

Petition

The protest passed off peacefully but was closely monitored by the police.

They marched from outside parliament to Place Toumou in central Niamey.

They were not allowed to hand in a petition to the president, demanding the pair's immediate release.

Instead, the letter was read out loud.

London-based Anti-Slavery International has urged the authorities to immediately release Mr Weila and Mr Biga, who both work for the anti-slave organisation, Timidria.

"We are very concerned for their welfare and categorically refute the charges against them," said Anti-Slavery International Africa Programme Officer Romana Cacchioli.

"The government's actions appear to be a concerted campaign not only to discredit their reputation and the work of Timidria, but also to silence efforts to end slavery in the country."

Embarrassed

At least 43,000 people are thought to live in subjugation across Niger, which officially banned slavery in May 2003.

The government says there is a caste system in Niger and members of lower castes have been mistaken for slaves.

The ceremony in March was due to be attended by representatives of the slaves, the government and human rights campaigners at In Ates, near the border with Mali.

A local chief had agreed to the release of the slaves, but authorities now say his letter to Timidria, Mr Weila's anti-slavery organisation, asking for financial aid to rehabilitate slaves was a forgery.

According to Timidria, males slaves are forced to work in farms and tender cattle, while women are confined to domestic duties.

The slave masters take the children from their mothers at two years old - to break the family bond as soon as the child is weaned. And so slavery is perpetuated from one generation to the next.

Anti-Slavery International says President Mamadou Tandja is embarrassed by any talk of slavery at a time when he is head of the West African regional organisation - Ecowas

Acting under pressure, Niger's parliament made slavery punishable by up to 30 years in prison in 2003.


SEE ALSO:
Testimony: Former Niger slave
03 Nov 04 |  Africa
Drama as Niger slaves are freed
19 Dec 03 |  Africa
Trauma of rescued Niger slaves
07 Dec 01 |  Africa
Rescued Niger slaves 'tortured'
07 Dec 01 |  Africa
Country profile: Niger
14 Aug 03 |  Country profiles


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific