New York, January 6, 2004—Mamane Abou, director of Niger’s private weekly newspaper Le Républicain was released from prison today after spending two months in jail for criminal defamation. An appeals court granted his provisional release pending a second criminal case that has been brought against him, for “theft of documents,” according to one of his lawyers.
Abou was arrested on November 5 in connection with a July article in Le Républicain that accused several government ministers of using unauthorized Treasury funds to pay for government contracts.
In November, a criminal court sentenced him to six months imprisonment and ordered him to pay a hefty fine for the article, which was deemed defamatory to Prime Minister Hama Amadou and Finance Minister Ali Badjo Gamatie. On December 23, the sentence was reduced on appeal to a four-month suspended term. The court also reduced his fine to 100,000 CFA francs (US$190) plus damages and interest of 2 million CFA francs (US$3,860), down from the fine of 300,000 CFA francs (US$580) and 10 million CFA francs (US$19,300) in damages imposed at his trial. However, Abou was kept in provisional detention after the Finance Ministry brought charges in a second case, accusing him of stealing documents.
An appeals court has now overturned the provisional detention order. However, Abou could be summoned for hearings in the second case in the next few weeks, according to his lawyer.
“We welcome Abou’s release, but he should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the government of Niger to ensure that all criminal charges against him are dropped and to reform the law so that journalists no longer face the threat of criminal charges for doing their jobs.”