Jail for reporting on corruption in famine aid distribution

New York, September 29, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the jail sentence given to a magazine journalist who reported on alleged corruption in the distribution of food aid during this year’s famine in Niger. On Tuesday, a court in the northern town of Agadez convicted Abdoulaye Harouna, publication director of the monthly Echos Express, of defaming the local governor, Yahaya Yendaka. The court sentenced him to four months in jail and fined him 520,000 CFA francs (US$950).

Harouna told CPJ that Yendaka filed a defamation suit against him after an article accused the governor of corruption in the distribution of aid in the Agadez region. Harouna remained free because no arrest warrant was immediately issued. He said he planned to appeal.

Harouna faces prosecution on another count of defaming Yendaka following an August article in Echos Express, which described a campaign of harassment and intimidation by local authorities against journalists who report on sensitive topics, including food aid distribution. The case has not yet been brought to trial.

A second Agadez-based journalist, Hamed Assaleh Raliou, faces at least two charges of defaming Yendaka in June and July, according to local sources. One charge stems from a report filed by Raliou for Radio France Internationale, which alleged that the governor had distributed food aid to military and administrative officials instead of the needy. The second charge stems from a talk show Raliou hosted on the Agadez-based independent station Sahara FM. In the show, local journalists, a union leader, and a teacher criticized the governor for unfairly distributing aid.

“CPJ condemns the jail sentence given to Abdoulaye Harouna, and is alarmed by the series of cases being brought against journalists in Agadez for their reporting on the relief effort,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Authorities in Niger must ensure that journalists are able to report and comment on this and other issues of public concern without fear of reprisal.”