New York, August 14, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by Niger’s continued detention of Le Républicain Director Maman Abou and Editor Oumarou Keita following their trial today on charges of spreading “false news” and defaming the government. The two have been in jail since August 4 in connection with a July opinion piece suggesting that Prime Minister Hama Amadou was “deserting the West for Iran.”
The prosecutor requested a one-year prison sentence, and a verdict is expected on September 1, according to CPJ sources in the capital, Niamey. Defense lawyers staged a walkout at today’s hearing to protest alleged judicial bias. One of the lawyers, Moussa Coulibaly, told CPJ that the judge had refused to hear a number of defense motions, including a request for bail. “They have decided to make an example of them, so that other free thinkers don’t go poking around in dirty state laundry and reveal cases of corruption,” he said in a phone interview.
The defendants claim that the government is trying to punish them for a series of news articles beginning in April that alleged government corruption in primary education financing. For more information, see CPJ’s August 7 alert.
“It’s outrageous that these two journalists are being kept in jail for doing their jobs, a situation made all the more egregious by reports of judicial bias,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on President Mamadou Tandja to ensure that Maman Abou and Oumarou Keita are released immediately.”
Following an initial court appearance on August 8, Abou was sent to prison in Tera, 187 kilometers (116 miles) west of Niamey, and Keita to Filingué, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital, according to CPJ sources. They were returned there following today’s hearing, the sources said. Coulibaly told CPJ this violated a law requiring that detainees be kept in a detention facility within the court’s jurisdiction. He said Abou was deprived of reading material and access to the radio.