In Niger, veteran journalist imprisoned

New York, September 24, 2007—A veteran radio journalist for French broadcaster Radio France Internationale, distinguished for his exclusive coverage of a seventh-month-old armed rebellion in northern Niger, was sent to prison today after four days in police custody on accusations of aiding the rebels, according to local journalists.

In an official statement on state television on Friday, Niamey’s appeals court prosecutor Adama Harouna accused Moussa Kaka of “conniving” with Tuareg rebels and “endangering state security,” citing telephone conversations between the journalist and the rebel leadership. The accusations included allegations that the journalist had negotiated payment with rebel leader Agali Alambo for footage and photos. Kaka had done exclusive interviews with rebel leaders and taken photos that were reprinted in several newspapers in Niamey in July.

“Moussa Kaka has been repeatedly harassed by the government because of his coverage of the Tuareg conflict,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The government has made serious accusations that Kaka and the rebels conspired to exchange money and that he was otherwise complicit in the rebellion. They must substantiate these charges or withdraw them immediately. He should not, under any circumstances, be held in jail regardless.”

Calling Kaka a “bandit”—the government’s term for the rebels— “under the guise of a journalist,” government spokesman Ben Omar Mohamed told CPJ the accusations were not linked to journalism.

Police arrested Kaka, director general of the private, nationwide broadcasting network Radio Saraounya and a correspondent, on Thursday in his Saraounya offices, searched his residence, and seized a draft of a report he filed for RFI, according to his wife, Jamila Souley, director of Saraounya’s Niamey station. A day later, they searched Kaka’s offices and confiscated his personal computer, according to Boubacar Diallo, president of the Niger Association of Independent Press Editors, known as ANEPI.

Gendarmes escorted Kaka late this afternoon to his arraignment at a court in the capital, Niamey, where more than 20 journalists of the foreign and local media had gathered since the morning, Reuters correspondent Abdoulaye Massalatchi told CPJ. Kaka was later transferred to Niamey’s prison as the arraignment was postponed to Tuesday, he said.

Kaka, known for his exclusive coverage of several Tuareg rebellions since the 1990s, had been previously jailed in 2004, and the target of government death threats recently for his work. Last month, authorities declared a three-month state of alert around the ancient northern Saharan trading town of Agadez, granting security forces blanket powers of arrest and detention in response to attacks by Tuareg fighters since February, according to news reports. At least 45 government soldiers were killed and dozens more kidnapped in the attacks.

Media coverage of deadly attacks by Tuareg fighters this year led authorities to suspend RFI and a private newspaper, as well as ban live debates on the rebellion, according to CPJ research. Yet the rebels continue to make statements to the media via satellite phone, its representatives in Europe and its Web site.

Six local media groups jointly condemned the arrest, according to Diallo.