New York, August 30, 2007—Niger’s state-run High Council on Communications has banned the broadcast of live debates on an armed rebellion of nomadic Tuaregs in the north of the uranium-rich West African nation, according to local journalists. Attacks by Tuareg fighters have killed at least 45 soldiers since February, according to Reuters.
The ruling on Tuesday was linked to the broadcast of a live panel Saturday morning on private station Radio Saraounya FM in the capital, Niamey, the journalists said. The debate contained commentary critical of the government’s handling of the conflict.
Broadcasters are still free to air debates and opinions as long as they are not live, Daouda Diallo, the council’s president today told CPJ. Calling the ruling “technical” in response to a “controversial national issue,” he said that the council is not monitoring content.
But criticism of a presidential decree granting security forces blanket powers to combat the rebels led authorities to detain opposition leader Issoufou Bachar this week for 48 hours. Bachar had appeared on a panel on Radio Saraounya FM, according to station director Moussa Kaka. Regardless, Saraounya FM would respect the ban, Kaka said.
“We are concerned that this ban on live broadcasts is just the thin end of the wedge for censorship of coverage of the conflict in northern Niger,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on the authorities to lift the ban immediately and cease attempts to stifle news and commentary on the Tuareg rebellion.”
We are troubled by the government’s increasing restrictions on the press over coverage of the conflict in northern Niger,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on the authorities to rescind this ban undermining press freedom.”
In recent weeks, authorities banned private bimonthly Aïr Info, threatened Kaka, and banned Paris-based Radio France Internationale for a month because of its coverage of the conflict.