Niger renews suspension of RFI

New York, March 13, 2008—Niger’s official media regulator summarily suspended on Wednesday the FM broadcasts of France-based Radio France Internationale (RFI) for three months. Authorities accused RFI of discrediting the government in connection with a day-long series of programs on Monday about the detention of RFI correspondent Moussa Kaka.

In a telephone interview with CPJ today from the capital, Niamey, Douda Diallo, the president of the country’s High Council on Communications, said RFI’s Monday programs questioned the independence of Niger’s courts, and broadcast “falsehoods” over Kaka’s case “with a manifest intention to discredit Niger’s institutions.”

Monday’s ruling was the second time RFI was taken off the air this year—the station was given a month-long suspension in July 2007, triggered by its coverage of a Tuareg insurgency in the north of the country.

“The re-suspension of RFI is a clear sign of an ongoing government policy to censor media outlets, whether local or foreign, for material deemed critical of the government,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to reverse lift the ban on RFI and release its correspondent Moussa Kaka immediately.”

Kaka, a veteran radio journalist distinguished for his coverage of several Tuareg rebellions since the 1990s, was arrested in September on anti-state charges over alleged links with a recent insurgency. Kaka had done exclusive interviews with rebel leaders last year, according to local journalists.

Kaka was not being held because of his journalism, but because of his “illegal activities,” Diallo told CPJ today, adding that the journalist had not filed a single report for RFI since the start of the rebellion last February. The council’s president also accused RFI of turning down callers from Niamey, including Niger’s foreign minister, during the programs.

RFI News Director Geneviève Goetzinger, speaking to CPJ from Paris, denied the allegations, saying that the station respected Niger’s sovereignty and judicial process. “For us, it was a day of solidarity for a fellow journalist. What we ask is that he be released and that the judicial process continues. We are confident in the Niger justice system.  We believe that his continued imprisonment is not necessary to determine the truth in the case.”

Throughout the day on Monday, RFI aired messages of support for Kaka from prominent French and African personalities, including former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard and Senegalese singer Youssou N’dour.

Kaka’s lawyers are appealing a February 12 court ruling that denied their petition for bail and reversed an earlier decision dismissing recordings of telephone conversations between the journalist and rebel leader Agali Alambo as illegal, according to local and international news reports.

Kaka is one of two journalists currently imprisoned in Niger, according to CPJ research. The other is Aboubacar Gourouza, director of the bimonthly L’Eveil Plus, who was jailed on February 26 and subsequently convicted on criminal defamation charges.