July 10, 2002
His Excellency Hama Amadou
Republic of Niger
Via Facsimile: 227-73-33-71 Your Excellency:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed by the recent sentencing of Abdoulaye Tiémogo, publisher and editor-in-chief of the satirical weekly Le Canard Dechainé, to eight months in prison.
On June 28, Tiémogo was convicted of libel and sentenced without parole. He was also ordered to pay a 50,000 CFA franc (US$75) fine for the conviction, which stemmed from a complaint filed by Your Excellency.
In addition, Tiémogo was ordered to pay Your Excellency 1 million CFA francs (US$1,500) in damages and was transferred to Niamey's civilian prison.
The lawsuit claimed that three recent Canard Dechainé articles had sullied your reputation by reporting that you attempted to bribe Mahamane Ousmane, the head of Niger's Parliament. According to Tiémogo's stories, Your Excellency offered Ousmane 6 million CFA francs (US$8,340).
According to CPJ sources in Niamey, since his conviction, Tiémogo has submitted a letter of apology to the judge in which he conceded that the allegations contained in the Canard Dechainé articles were unfounded. He has also filed an appeal, which is pending.
This is the third time in the last year that Tiémogo has been arrested for his work. On May 17, Tiémogo was detained after he hosted a radio talk show on the privately run Tambara FM, during which one of his guests accused Your Excellency of ethnic and regional bias in your nomination of high-ranking government officials.
Tiémogo was held for 11 days, along with two other journalists who had recently criticized you. The court acquitted him of defaming Your Excellency, citing a lack of evidence.
In October 2001, Tiémogo was convicted of defaming Minister of Agriculture Wassalke Boukari after Le Canard Dechainé published an article claiming that Boukari had embezzled funds from the sale of gold prospecting permits. Tiémogo spent seven weeks in jail before Boukari dropped the charges.
Moreover, in July 2000, Tiémogo, then publisher of the private weekly Canardo, and his editor-in-chief, Daouda Traore, were arrested after you charged the journalists with defamation for allegedly damaging your public image in critical articles. The charges were eventually dismissed on procedural grounds.
A week earlier, defamation charges brought by the army chief of staff against Canardo and the journalists for an article questioning the army's ability to respond to a national security emergency, had been dismissed.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ believes that journalists should never be jailed for their work. There is a growing international consensus that civil remedies provide adequate redress in matters of libel.
Your Excellency, as the leader of your country, you are at the center of public debate. Therefore, you and other high-ranking officials must tolerate public scrutiny. Journalists cannot fulfill their role of independently reporting the news as long as the government has the power to criminally prosecute them for their work.
The numerous arrests, detentions, and criminal sentences against Abdoulaye Tiémogo signal an alarming pattern of harassment that violates journalists' right to press freedom, guaranteed under Niger's constitution.
We therefore call on you to drop the charges against Abdoulaye Tiémogo immediately. We also urge you to do everything within your power to see that criminal laws used against the press are repealed in Niger and that government authorities allow journalists to practice their profession without fear of reprisals.
Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We look forward to your reply.