Niger will take French journalists to court

New York, December 21, 2007—Two French journalists detained since Monday in the capital, Niamey, will now be tried in court, an official announced today.

Journalist Thomas Dandois and cameraman Pierre Creisson of Franco-German TV network Arte Television were arrested south of Niamey after police allegedly discovered footage and photos of rebel Tuareg leaders, government spokesman Ben Omar Mohamed told Agence France-Presse. The journalists, officially in Niger to cover a story about bird flu in the southern city of Maradi, had been “under surveillance since the beginning,” he said. 

In August, Niger banned foreign and local reporters from its Saharan, uranium-rich north, the hotbed of a deadly Tuareg insurgency since February, as part of its effort to censor media coverage of the conflict. Tuareg attacks and government reprisals have resulted in dozens of deaths, including at least 49 government troops, and mass arrests since February, according to news reports.

“The arrests of Thomas Dandois and Pierre Creisson are part of the government’s repressive tactics of criminalizing journalists who try to cover the conflict,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the government to abandon these practices, which undermine Niger’s democratic progress.”

Mohamed accused the journalists of “producing a film and photos for use as propaganda in Europe for these armed bandits”—the government’s term for the rebels, according to AFP. Arte executive Jérôme Clément and French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andréani said they were monitoring the situation very closely, according to news reports.

Dandois and Creisson were the second and third French journalists detained in recent weeks in Niger over allegations of filming the rebels, according to CPJ research. In September, French independent filmmaker François Bergeron was detained for a month and subsequently deported after his arrest in the northern town of Agadez.

Two other Nigerian journalists, Moussa Kaka, correspondent for French broadcaster Radio France Internationale, and Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, publisher of Agadez-based newspaper Aïr Info, remain behind bars on accusations of links with the rebels.