In Niger, two journalists detained ahead of referendum

New York, August 3, 2009–Two Nigerien editors whose weekly newspapers reported on corruption charges involving the national human rights commission have been in police custody since Saturday, according to local journalists and news reports.

Abdoulaye Tiémogo of the Le Canard Dechainé and Ali Soumana of Le Courrier were being held at the main police station in the capital, Niamey, and could be formally charged on Wednesday, according to defense lawyer Karim Souley. The arrests stem from complaints filed by Justice Minister Garba Lompo, and Niger’s National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, he said.

Le Canard Dechainé alleged that Lompo, while president of the commission, misused millions in CFA francs destined for a study on slavery in Niger. Lompo has denied the charge. Le Courrier reported that the commission misused 350 million CFA francs (US$760,000) that was earmarked for supervision of Tuesday’s referendum on a constitutional amendment scrapping presidential term limits, according to local journalists. The commission members denied the accusation.

“The detention of Abdoulaye Tiémogo and Ali Soumana is part of a disturbing trend of harassment of independent journalists reporting on corruption in Niger,” Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “They should be released immediately and allowed to work freely.”

On Saturday, police questioned Tiémogo, Soumana, and six other editors about the publication of a leaked document purporting to show that President Mamadou Tandja’s son received kickbacks from Niger’s uranium mining profits, according to press reports and local journalists. The administration and the presidential family did not respond publicly to the accusation. The editors–Moussa Aksar of L’Evènement, Zakari Alzouma of Opinions, Abard Mouddour Zakara of L’Actualité, Oumarou Keita of biweekly Le Républicain, Ibrahim Souley of L’Enquêteur, and Assane Sadou of Démocrate–were released without charge after a few hours.