New York, August 7, 2006—The director and editor of the private weekly Le Républicain have been held in police custody since Friday and questioned over a July opinion piece suggesting that Prime Minister Hama Amadou was “deserting the West for Iran.” Director Maman Abou said that he and Editor Oumarou Keita have been accused of defaming the government and publishing false information, charges which could carry a prison sentence. They are expected to be brought before a court on Tuesday.
Abou told CPJ in a phone interview from detention that the two were officially accused in connection with a July 28 opinion article. The piece, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, claimed that the prime minister was becoming “anti-white” and was courting Iran and other nations for aid.
But Abou said he believed the government intended to punish the newspaper for a series of news articles beginning in April that alleged government corruption in primary education financing. He said the charges led to a donor audit in June.
Niger’s ministers for health and education were fired on June 27, following allegations of corruption by donors and development partners, according to international news agencies. The July 28 opinion piece in Le Républicain suggested that the episode was prompting Amadou to reject Western donors in favor of nations such as Iran and Venezuela.
“It’s outrageous that our two colleagues are in jail for doing exactly what journalists are supposed to do—reporting on alleged corruption and expressing their views on the government’s performance,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Maman Abou and Oumarou Keita should be freed immediately and all charges against them dismissed.”
This is not the first time Le Républicain has drawn the ire of Niger’s authorities. In November 2003, Abou was jailed and sentenced for defamation over an article that accused several government ministers of using unauthorized treasury funds to pay for government contracts. He was granted a provisional release two months later.