CPJ condemns crackdown on media coverage

New York, March 30, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns ongoing attempts by Niger authorities to repress independent media coverage of protests against a new tax on basic foodstuffs, including water and flour.

Police in the capital, Niamey, shuttered the offices of the privately run Radio Alternative this morning. No reason was given for the closure, according to a source at the station reached by CPJ, but employees believe it may be linked to the March 26 arrest of Moussa Tchangari, who directs the station’s parent company, Alternative.

Tchangari is a leading member of the “Coalition Against Costly Living,” a group of civil society organizations that have protested the new tax through public demonstrations and a widely followed general strike. He was arrested after giving an interview to Radio France Internationale (RFI) on the coalition’s stance.

Tchangari and four other leaders of the civil society coalition are in jail charged with threatening national security. The others had also been interviewed by local radio stations, and had urged religious leaders to pray in order to save the impoverished country from misery. A government spokesman told the UN’s IRIN news service that their statements constituted a “veiled call to rebellion.”

On March 24, Interior Minister Mounkaila Modi appeared on state-run television to warn journalists against covering the coalition’s activities. The announcement came two days after police in the western city of Zinder searched the offices of the privately owned broadcaster Radio Télévision Ténéré (RTT), and confiscated a videocassette containing footage of street protests against the tax.

“CPJ deplores the closing of Radio Alternative and the Niger government’s attempts to stifle independent media coverage,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Journalists in Niger must be free to report on matters of public concern.”