May 29, 2002
President Mamadou Tandja
Niamey, Republic of Niger
Via facsimile: +227 72 2245
The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from government custody of three leading Nigerois journalists who were arrested and detained on charges of defaming government officials. However, CPJ strongly condemns the criminal prosecution of journalists for their work.
On May 17, police officers in the capital, Niamey, arrested Abdoulaye Tiemogo, publisher of the independent weekly Le Canard Dechainé. According to local journalists contacted by CPJ, Tiemogo was arrested for comments made on May 11 during a special talk show he hosted on Tambara FM, a private radio station in Niamey.
During the show, which focused on corrupt government authorities who commit crimes with impunity, Tiemogo invited studio guests and listeners to voice their views on the country’s embattled democratization process.
One of Tiemogo’s guests, Sanoussi Jackou, an opposition leader and owner of the private weekly La Roue de l’Histoire, accused Prime Minister Hama Amadou of ethnic and regional bias in his nominations of high-ranking government officials. Jackou also criticized Niger’s trade minister, Seini Oumarou.
On May 18, police arrested Jackou, as well as Abarad Mouddour, the publisher of La Roue de l’Histoire. Both men were charged with defaming Prime Minister Amadou and Trade Minister Oumarou.
While Jackou’s and Mouddour’s arrest partially stemmed from Jackou’s on-air comments about the prime minister, police also cited an early May article in La Roue de l’Histoire that accused Trade Minister Oumarou of not repaying huge loans that he had taken from a financially troubled, state-operated bank. According to journalists in Niamey, the article alleged that the minister’s actions directly contributed to the bank’s collapse. On May 21, all three journalists were transferred to Niamey’s Civil Prison. On May 24, a judge in Niamey’s Court of First Instance denied them bail, journalists in Niger told CPJ.
Tiemogo, Jackou, and Mouddour were tried on May 28 for defaming Prime Minister Amadou and Trade Minister Oumarou. While Tiemogo was acquitted for lack of evidence, the court convicted Jackou and Mouddour of criminal defamation and sentenced each journalist to a suspended four-month prison term and a fine of 100,000 CFA Francs (US$136).
The court also ordered Jackou and Mouddour to pay the plaintiffs a combined sum of 2 million CFA Francs (US$2,702) in damages.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending and promoting press freedom worldwide, we believe that journalists should never face criminal prosecution for their work.
As high-ranking government officials, Prime Minister Amadou and Trade Minister Oumarou are at the center of public debate and, therefore, must tolerate public scrutiny, including harsh criticism. Members of the media cannot fulfill their role as long as the government has the power to criminally prosecute journalists for their work.
There is an emerging international consensus that such laws threaten press freedom; civil remedies provide adequate redress in instances where public officials allege that they have been defamed.
We urge you to do everything within your power to ensure that criminal defamation statues are repealed in Niger, and that all journalists are free to do their jobs without fear of government interference or legal reprisals.
We thank you for your attention to this matter and await your reply.