Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Niger
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2004|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Niger, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566b113.html [accessed 8 October 2015]|
After U.S. President George W. Bush claimed in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy uranium from the impoverished West African country of Niger, outraged journalists and President Mamadou Tandja, who has led the nation since its return to civilian rule in 1999, rallied to the nations' defense. No evidence has been found to support Bush's accusation.
However, President Tandja and Niger's independent press agree on little else. A tense relationship exists between journalists and authorities, who accuse the private media of antagonizing the government. Journalists reject accusations of bias, maintaining that a critical stance is necessary for Niger's nascent democracy. However, many members of the media also acknowledge that financial difficulties and a lack of training make it difficult to stay independent.
In 2003, authorities used Niger's harsh press laws and the Criminal Code to crack down on journalists who criticized the government. In September, Ibrahim Souley, publication director of the private weekly L'Enquêteur, was imprisoned for a month pending his trial on charges of spreading propaganda and "inciting ethnic hatred." The charges stemmed from an article in the paper alleging that businessmen from eastern Niger had complained that the government was awarding too many contracts to a businessman from the west. In October, Souley was given a one-year suspended sentence and was freed the same day. Local journalists rallied to support Souley, but many also acknowledge that ethnicity is a sensitive subject that is often avoided for fear of provoking unrest.
A month after Souley's release, police imprisoned Maman Abou, director of the private weekly Le Républicain, a newspaper widely respected for its independence. The arrest came after an article published in July accused government ministers of using unauthorized treasury funds to pay for government contracts. The article alleged that several contracts had been awarded to government supporters without competitive bidding. The newspaper also published documents from the Public Treasury that reportedly supported the accusations.
In a closed trial in November, Abou was convicted of criminal defamation and sentenced to six months in prison. Neither Abou nor his lawyers were present at the proceedings. Despite a government order forbidding a demonstration on Abou's behalf, thousands of people protested in the capital, Niamey, in mid-November to call for the journalist's release, according to news reports. Local human rights and press freedom groups also condemned Abou's imprisonment.
On December 23, after the defamation charge against Abou was appealed, Niamey's Correctional Court amended the journalist's sentence, changing it from six months in prison to a suspended sentence of four months. However, Abou was kept in prison under preventive detention for a second charge of complicity in stealing and possessing confidential government documents. An appeals court granted him a provisional release in early January 2004.
Throughout 2003, authorities retaliated against media outlets that reported on the country's turbulent past and sensitive ethnic issues. In February, police in the town of Agadez, north of Niamey, shuttered the independent radio station Nomade FM on the orders of Interior Minister Albade Abouba. The station was accused of "inciting rebellion" by airing an interview with two former rebels who criticized the government's failure to implement the 1995 peace accords between the government and ethnic Tuareg rebel fighters. The station remained closed for three weeks before it was given permission to broadcast again.
In September and October, local government representatives, who said they were acting on orders from the president, warned private radio stations nationwide not to broadcast news that could "endanger peace and public order." Journalists said no topics were specified, and at year's end it remained unclear what had provoked the warning.
In September, Niger's High Council on Communications (known by its French acronym, CSC) revoked 15 private radio stations' authorization to broadcast. The move resulted from an internal dispute on the council, which suspended CSC President Mariama Keita because she granted the 15 stations permission to broadcast without seeking the council's collective approval. After Keita was suspended, the CSC asked the stations to resubmit their applications and revoked their authorization to broadcast pending the council's approval. Local journalists' associations criticized the move, arguing that a dispute within a regulatory body should not restrict citizens' access to information. By year's end, the council had approved several of the stations' applications.
Under pressure from human rights groups, Niger's Parliament banned the keeping or trading of slaves in May. However, local journalists said that authorities are reluctant to acknowledge that slavery still exists in the country. In December, police harassed reporters at a ceremony celebrating the liberation of several slaves in Tahoua, a town north of Niamey. According to news reports, police seized equipment from the journalists on the orders of a local government official.
2003 Documented Cases – Niger
FEBRUARY 11, 2003
Posted: January 29, 2004
Police in the town of Agadez, approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Niamey, shuttered the independent, Agadez-based radio station Nomade FM. The order for the closure came from Interior Minister Albade Abouba, who, local sources reported, was acting on orders from President Mamadou Tandja.
The station was accused of "inciting rebellion" during a February 5 broadcast of a local-language talk show when the host spoke with two former antigovernment rebels. The rebels criticized the government's failure to implement the 1995 Peace Accords, signed between the government and a former rebel movement. In particular, the talk-show guests criticized the government's failure to integrate the former rebels into society, saying that they have lived in poverty since the accords were signed.
Nomade was given permission to go back on air three weeks after the closure. The station, which was founded in 1998, broadcasts local news and relays news from international organizations.
JUNE 14, 2003
Mallam Yaro, Radio Télévision Ténéré
Radio Télévision Ténéré
Several dozen students from the University of Niamey descended on the offices of Radio Télévision Ténéré (RTT), the country's only private station, attacked Station Director Yaro, and manhandled other journalists and station listeners. The students also vandalized one of the station's vehicles.
The attack followed a June 13 television report on the students' poor living conditions. The RTT broadcast included an account of how the students were stealing food from university stores and then selling it. Earlier on June 13, the students threatened to attack the RTT journalists who had gone to the university to prepare the report if the station broadcast footage of their illegal activities. Sources in Niamey said that neither Yaro nor the other RTT journalists were seriously injured.
SEPTEMBER 13, 2003
Soumana Maïga, L'Enquêteur
Ibrahim Souley, L'Enquêteur
Police arrested Maïga, founder of the private weekly L'Enquêteur (The Investigator), and Souley, the paper's publication director, in the capital, Niamey, after the newspaper ran an article alleging that businessmen from eastern Niger had complained that the government was awarding too many contracts to a businessman from the west.
Maïga was released after a few hours of questioning about his role at the newspaper, the journalist told CPJ. However, Souley was held for 48 hours at police headquarters before being transferred to Niamey's Central Prison. The journalist was charged with spreading propaganda and "inciting ethnic hatred."
Souley's trial opened on October 7. On October 13, he was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and was freed that day. The journalist was also banned from entering Niamey for the duration of the sentence. Sources in Niger told CPJ that Souley will continue working for L'Enquêteur.
NOVEMBER 5, 2003
Posted: January 29, 2004
Maman Abou, Le Républicain
LEGAL ACTION, IMPRISONED
Police officers arrested Abou, director of the private weekly newspaper Le Républicain, at the newspaper's offices in the capital, Niamey. He was transferred to Central Prison in Niamey the same day.
On November 7, Abou was sentenced to six months in prison for criminal defamation at a closed, secret trial. Neither Abou nor his lawyers were present at the trial, according to Abou's colleagues. The journalist was also ordered to pay two fines, one of 300,000 CFA francs (US$530), and another of 10 million CFA francs (US$17,560).
The sentence stemmed from a July article in Le Républicain that accused several government ministers of using unauthorized treasury funds to pay for government contracts. The article alleged that several contracts had been awarded to government supporters without allowing competitive bidding, according to Le Républicain staff. The newspaper also published several documents, allegedly from the Public Treasury, along with the article. Following the article's publication, Prime Minister Hama Amadou announced on state television that he would pursue defamation charges against Le Républicain, according to local journalists.
After the sentence was delivered, Abou was transferred from Central Prison in Niamey to a prison in the town of Say, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south.
On December 23, after the defamation charge against Abou had been appealed, Niamey's Correctional Court amended the journalist's sentence, changing it from six months in prison to a suspended sentence of four months. The fines were also reduced to 100,000 (US$190) and 2 million CFA francs (US$3,780), respectively.
However, Abou was kept in prison under so-called preventive detention on a second charge of complicity in stealing and possessing confidential government documents. The possession charge falls under the country's criminal code and can carry a sentence of several years in prison, according to local journalists.
On January 6, 2004, an appeals court granted Abou a provisional release, and he was freed from jail. His lawyer said he could soon be summoned for hearings on the possession charges.
NOVEMBER 13, 2003
Posted: November 13, 2003
Ismael Moutari, Radio Anfani
Amadou Mamadou, Radio Anfani
Harouna Mato, Radio Anfani
Police arrested Radio Anfani's regional director Moutari and reporters Mamadou and Mato, in Zinder, a region in eastern Niger, and detained them for five hours for questioning, according to the journalists' colleagues in the capital, Niamey. The arrests came after the station reported on a clash between local farmers and nomadic herders during which two people were killed, local journalists said. The three journalists were held at the police station in Zinder and were questioned about the report.
Moutari, Mamadou, and Mato were released the same day. It is unclear whether they will be formally charged.