CPJ condemns continued imprisonment of journalists

New York, September 25, 2006—An appeals court in Niger today upheld 18-month jail sentences for two journalists convicted of defamation and spreading false information in an article criticizing Prime Minister Hama Amadou.

The court in the capital Niamey rejected a defense motion which challenged the competence of the criminal court that convicted Maman Abou and Oumarou Keita, respectively managing editor and editor of private daily Le Républicain, on September 1, their lawyer said.

Lawyer Moussa Coulibaly told CPJ he would take the case to Niger’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, noting that this was a “last resort.”

The conviction was based on an opinion piece in July suggesting that under prime minister Amadou, Niger was “deserting the West for Iran.” The defendants claim that the government is also punishing them for a series of articles beginning in April that alleged government corruption in primary education financing. They have been in jail since August 4, and were given a one-day trial on August 14. Defense lawyers walked out during the August 14 proceedings in protest at the handling of the case.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by the authorities’ apparent determination to keep these journalists in jail for their work,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to release Maman Abou and Oumarou Keita immediately, and to stop using criminal laws to punish journalists for their work.”

A third journalist, Salif Dago of private newspaper L’Enquêteur, has also been jailed since August 28. On September 15, a court sentenced Dago to six months in prison for “false information,” in connection with an August 14 story headlined “Black mass in Niamey cemetery.” For more information, see CPJ’s September 15 alert.s

Local journalists’ and civil society organizations demonstrated in Niamey on September 23 against government persecution of the press, according to Boubacar Diallo, President of the Niger Association of Independent Press Editors, known by its French acronym ANEPI.