Journalist jailed for defamation

New York, November 21, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged that a journalist accused of defaming a government official has been placed in “preventive detention.” Salifou Soumaila Abdoulkarim, director of the private weekly Le Visionnaire, was arrested November 12 after State Treasurer Siddo Elhadj filed a defamation suit, local sources said.

“It is outrageous that Salifou Soumaila Abdoulkarim is being treated like a dangerous criminal for reporting on a matter of clear public interest,” said Ann Cooper, Executive Director of CPJ. “Authorities in Niger must release him immediately, and should move towards decriminalizing press offenses.”

Elhadj brought the suit over an article in Le Visionnaire which accused him of embezzling 17 billion CFA francs (US$30 million) in government funds. A prosecutor ordered that Abdoulkarim be held in preventive detention at police headquarters in the capital Niamey. He was transferred to prison on November 17. He is scheduled to have his first hearing before a judge on Tuesday.

Abdoulaye Massalaki, president of Niger’s journalists’ union, told CPJ that preventive detention for journalists charged with defamation is allowed under Niger’s 1999 press law. Since a prominent journalist was sentenced to six months in jail for defamation in late 2003, local journalists have struggled to reform Niger’s media legislation. Maman Abou, director of the private weekly Le Républicain, was granted a provisional release from prison in January 2004.

In September, a court in the northern town of Agadez sentenced Abdoulaye Harouna, managing editor of the monthly Echos Express, to four months in jail for allegedly defaming the local governor, Yahaya Yendaka. However, Harouna remained free because no arrest warrant was immediately issued, according to local sources.