July 10, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to express our alarm at your administration’s increasing restrictions on the Nigerien private press. We are concerned by the ongoing censorship of stories about the public opposition to your plans for a constitutional amendment that would scrap presidential term limits.
Since June 26, you have assumed emergency powers after dissolving the constitutional court and parliament, which had resisted your amendment, according to international news reports. On Wednesday, a presidential decree granted the president of the national media regulator, the High Council on Communications, sweeping powers of summary censorship over “any information that endangers state security or public order,” according to local journalists and news reports. The decree authorized the president of the council to “take any restraining measures without warning” and without consulting the council’s 10 other members. Current council regulations require the issuance of a formal notice, a hearing, and a quorum of members prior to any disciplinary action, according to legal experts.
The decree follows a June 29 ruling by Council President Daouda Diallo to indefinitely ban Dounia Television and Radio after the network broadcast an opposition political statement. Diallo accused the station of broadcasting a “call for insurrection in the defense and security forces,” Diallo told CPJ.
However, the same day, six of the council’s members opposed the ruling on the grounds that it was enacted without internal consultation. A High Court judge agreed and threw out the suspension on July 2, according to Nigerien legal expert Karim Souley. A second ruling by the Supreme Court rescinded a separate one-month suspension of Dounia imposed in August 2008 linked to the station’s extensive coverage of then-imprisoned opposition leader Hama Amadou, according to local news reports. The back and forth between the council and the judiciary leaves news outlets in a precarious position in the middle of an ongoing power struggle.
The council has imposed other restrictions on the private media, including a ban since June 8 on live programming that discusses the current political crisis, and several other journalists at various media outlets are facing criminal prosecutions for their coverage of sensitive issues, according to CPJ research. Dounia Director General Abibou Garba is facing criminal charges of defamation and broadcasting false news for airing a television debate in April in which an activist described a uranium exploitation deal between French nuclear energy giant AREVA and the government as “looting of Niger’s resources.”
These restrictions effectively deprive the people of Niger the opportunity to participate in a critical political decision that has long-term consequences for the country. Granting a single individual the authority to summarily censor critical media reports delegitimizes this entire process. We urge you to rescind the presidential decree, ending the censorship and allowing the media to perform its proper function in this critical moment in Niger’s history.