Journalist imprisoned on criminal defamation charges

November 10, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the imprisonment of Maman Abou, director of the private weekly newspaper Le Républicain. At a closed, secret trial on November 7, Abou was sentenced to six months in prison for criminal defamation. Neither Abou nor his lawyers were present at the trial, according to Abou's colleagues, who are in constant contact with him. Abou is currently being held at the Central Prison in the capital, Niamey.

The journalist was also ordered to pay two separate fines, one of 300,000 CFA francs (US$ 526), and another of 10 million CFA francs (US$ 17,556).

The sentence stems from an article published in Le Républicain in July that accused several ministers in Your Excellency's government 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 members. 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.

On the morning of November 5, police officers arrested Abou at the offices of Le Républicain. He was transferred to the Central Prison in Niamey the same day.

According to a press release circulated today by Niger's Justice Ministry, Your Excellency's government has also accused Abou of possessing confidential government documents. Local journalists fear that Abou could face a second trial based on this separate accusation.

CPJ is distressed at the deteriorating state of press freedom in Niger. On October 13, Ibrahim Souley, publication director at the private weekly L'Enquêteur, was given a one-year suspended prison sentence for spreading propaganda and "inciting ethnic hatred." The charges stemmed from an article in L'Enquêteur alleging that businessmen from eastern Niger had complained that the government was awarding too many contracts to a businessman from the west.

As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ calls for the immediate, unconditional release of Maman Abou. We also call on Your Excellency to ensure that all other charges against Abou relating to his journalistic work are dropped. Abou's arrest and prosecution send a chilling signal that could intimidate journalists who are reporting on matters of public concern. We call on Your Excellency to ensure that Niger journalists can practice their profession freely, without fear of criminal punishment.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director


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