In Niger, three journalists are released from jail

New York, November 27, 2006—Niger’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Appeals in Niamey, today ordered the provisional release of two journalists serving prison sentences for an article criticizing the prime minister. Director Maman Abou and editor Oumarou Keita of the private weekly Le Républicain were freed pending the court’s decision on the merits of their appeal, according to local journalists. The journalists’ next hearing is scheduled for December 11.

“We’re encouraged by the court’s preliminary ruling and believe that when the evidence is fully evaluated the court will overturn these unjust convictions,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “At the same time, we urge Niger’s authorities to remove the undemocratic and outdated laws used to jail our colleagues Abou and Keita, enabling the press to carry out its work without fear of reprisal.”

In a separate decision, an appeals court overturned the conviction of a third journalist, Salif Dago, who had been in jail for three months. The rulings came a day after hundreds of people called for the journalists’ release in demonstrations in the central town of Agadez, according to local media reports. CPJ and other press freedom groups had also called for the cases to be dropped and the men freed.

Abou and Keita were jailed on August 4 after publishing an opinion piece in July critical of Prime Minister Hama Amadou. On September 1, a trial court sentenced the two journalists to 18-month prison terms and fined them more than 5 million CFA francs (US$9,800) apiece on charges of defaming the government and publishing false news. An appeals court upheld the verdict later that month.

Dago, a reporter for the private bi-monthly L’Enquêteur, was jailed on August 28 in connection with a story alleging the macabre ritual killing of a baby by an unidentified man. He was sentenced on September 1 to six months in prison and fined 100,000 CFA francs (US$193).

Dago’s lawyer, Ousmane Ben Kafougou, welcomed today’s appeals court decision reversing the ruling. “The case is closed,” Kafougou told CPJ, “but we are considering seeking compensation for unjust imprisonment.”

For more on these cases, see CPJ’s September 25 alert: