Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 21
Political Influences: 19
Economic Pressures: 16
Total Score: 56
Life Expectancy: 43
Religious Groups: Muslim (80 percent), other [including indigenous beliefs and Christian] (20 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Hausa (56 percent), Djerma (22 percent), Fula (9 percent), Tuareg (8 percent), Beri Beri (4 percent), other (1 percent)
The rights to freedom of speech and of the press are protected by the constitution in Niger, but in practice they are often ignored. The life of a journalist is made particularly difficult by a government that frequently implements a law criminalizing defamation and a judiciary ready to enforce it. The year 2005 saw an increase in the number of press freedom violations, particularly those executed under this law. Journalists were subject to fines and imprisonment for reporting on such issues as the persistence of the slave trade, corruption in business and within government, and the ongoing struggle with rebel Tuareg factions. The government was particularly determined to conceal the existence of the famine that hit Niger this year. Tchirgni Maimouna, editor in chief of the government-owned weekly Sahel Dimanche, was relieved of her duties after the paper became the first to report on the existence of the famine. In addition, Hammed Assaleh Raliou, director of Sahara FM and a local correspondent for Radio France Internationale, was charged with two counts of defamation and sentenced to eight months in prison for reporting on government corruption in the distribution of food aid. In a separate incident, the private radio station Alternative FM was forcibly closed by police in March, while its director, Moussa Tchangari, was arrested and detained in a maximum security prison. Tchangari and Alternative FM were charged with undermining the authority of the state by leading a nonviolent protest over a new government tax on basic foodstuffs (including water and flour). Other cases included that of Abdoulaye Harouna, publisher of an Agadez paper, and independent journalist Abdoulkarim Salifou, who were imprisoned for four and two months respectively on separate libel charges.
The state-owned media consistently reflect the government line, while private publications have been very critical of government action. The broadcast media have a greater influence than the newspaper industry owing to the nation's low literacy level. The state continues to dominate the broadcasting landscape. Nonetheless, at least six private radio stations broadcast reports critical of the government in French and local languages. Restrictive press licensing legislation and a heavy tax on private media outlets continue to prohibit the growth of a vibrant and dynamic press. Internet access is hard to acquire for most, but this is a result more of the country's high level of poverty than direct government interference.
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