In Niger, RFI summarily suspended after correspondent threatened

New York, July 20, 2007–The Niger government suspended broadcasts of France-based Radio France Internationale (RFI) on Thursday, accusing the station of “broadcasting false news” related to a recent armed rebellion of nomadic Tuaregs in northern Niger, according to local journalists and news reports. The move came less than a week after the army chief threatened to kill a veteran RFI correspondent.

“We condemn the summary suspension of RFI,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to stop censoring coverage and to allow the media to inform the world about the conflict in northern Niger.”

RFI broadcast an interview on Wednesday with a former army officer-turned-rebel, Kindo Zada, and was suspended for a month the following day by the country’s state-run High Council on Communications.

Daouda Diallo, president of the council, accused RFI of presenting Zada as “an army deserter,” calling him instead a “runaway criminal.” Zada was jailed and banned from the army in 2002 in relation to a kidnapping case. He remains popular among the army’s rank-and-file, and local reporters believe that the council is trying to prevent further desertions by clamping down on the station’s coverage of both Zada and the rebellion itself.

Just a week ago, the head of the army went after RFI for its coverage of the rebellion. Army Gen. Moumouni Boureïma threatened RFI correspondent Moussa Kaka during a reception at the French embassy in the capital, Niamey, according to news reports. Boureïma was quoted as warning Kaka, “You, one of these days, I will kill you.”

Kaka had done exclusive interviews with rebel leaders and taken photos that were reprinted in several newspapers in Niamey, local journalists told CPJ. Also director of private Radio Saraounya FM, Kaka has covered unrest in northern Niger for the last 15 years and was the only local journalist to have reported from the area, Boubacar Diallo, President of the Niger Association of Independent Press Editors, known as ANEPI, told CPJ.

This was not the first time Kaka was harassed for his work. In 2004, Kaka was jailed for four days in connection with an interview he’d done with a Tuareg rebel leader.

In an official statement obtained by CPJ, RFI protested the move, saying its coverage was fair and impartial. RFI had been broadcasting in French and Hausa, the most widely spoken language in Niger.

RFI was the second media outlet suspended in the past month in connection with coverage of the country’s deadly unrest. On June 29, authorities banned the bimonthly Aïr Info for three months. It has since warned of sanctions against several other papers.