New York, September 5, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by 18-month prison sentences and heavy fines handed down against the director and editor of the Niger private weekly Le Républicain on charges of defaming the government and publishing false news. A court in the capital, Niamey, found Director Maman Abou and Editor Oumarou Keita guilty on both counts and returned them to prison where they have been for the last month, according to their lawyer and news reports.
The court imposed a fine of more than 5 million CFA francs (US$9,800) against each journalist. The trial court’s verdict, which sources said had been expected September 11, was handed down Friday afternoon.
The two have been in jail since August 4 in connection with a July opinion piece suggesting that Prime Minister Hama Amadou’s foreign policies were “deserting the West for Iran.” The defendants claim that the government is also trying to punish them for a series of news articles beginning in April that alleged government corruption in primary education financing.
“This outrageous verdict punishes Maman Abou and Oumarou Keita for doing their job of scrutinizing government actions,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “They should be freed immediately and all charges against them should be dismissed.”
An appeal has been filed, and a hearing is scheduled for September 11, defense lawyer Moussa Coulibaly told CPJ. Defense lawyers cited bias by the trial judge and staged a protest walkout during the one-day proceeding on August 14. For information, see CPJ’s August 14 news alert.
On August 28, a third journalist was jailed in Niger in connection with his work. Salif Dago, a reporter for the private newspaper l’Enquêteur, was tried on August 31 on charges of publishing false information, and a verdict is expected September 15.
“We are deeply troubled by the current crackdown against the private press in Niger,” Simon added. “Authorities must stop using outdated criminal laws to harass and jail journalists.”