Two journalists given three months in prison

New York, November 18, 2008Two Nigerien journalists were sentenced to prison today on criminal libel charges over editorials critically scrutinizing the director of the country’s electricity supplier, according to local journalists.


The two men are free pending an appeal after spending five days in prison.

A criminal court judge in the capital, Niamey, sentenced editor Moussa Aksar and reporter Aboubacar Sani of the weekly L’Evènement to three months in prison, a fine of 50,000 CFA francs (US$100) each, and ordered them to pay 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,000) in damages, according to the Niger Association of Independent Press Editors. A date for the appeal was not yet set, Aksar told CPJ.

“We condemn the prison sentences against Moussa Aksar and Aboubacar Sani,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “We call on the appeals court to overturn these sentences and urge the authorities to abandon the use of criminal defamation as a means to silence independent journalists.

Following a complaint by Ibrahim Foukori, the managing director of Nigerien power authority NIGELEC, police questioned Aksar and Sani on November 12, according to local journalists. The next day, they were summoned to court, charged, and imprisoned. The complaint was based on editorials written by Sani that raised questions about the possibility that nepotism was involved in the agency’s hiring of the sister of President Mamadou Tandja’s chief of staff, according to Aksar. Aksar was charged because he edited the paper.

Separate criminal charges already hang over Aksar in connection with another story. Aksar was charged with “divulging national security secrets” after L’Evènement published a story in July linking army Col. Abdoulaye Mounkaïla to a weapons cache–and possible coup attempt–discovered in Niamey. Mounkaïla was arrested in August, according to international news reports.

Independent Nigerien journalists have been facing increasing police detentions, criminal prosecutions, and prison sentences for reporting on corruption or government mismanagement, and defamation suits are on the rise as the government attempts to silence the media. Aksar and Sani were the fifth and sixth journalists given prison sentences in Niger this year, after editor Aboubacar Gourouza of weekly L’Eveil Plus, editor Ibrahim Souley and reporter Soumana Idrissa Maiga of weekly L’Enqueteur, and editor Zakari Alzoumana of the weekly Opinions, according to CPJ research.