Nigerien editor charged with criminal libel

New York, September 24, 2009—A newspaper editor in police custody in Niger since Sunday was charged with criminal libel on Wednesday in connection with a story accusing a top official of involvement in a corruption scandal, according to local journalists and news reports. 

Ibrahim Soumana Gaoh of the private weekly Le Témoin was being held at the central prison in the capital Niamey pending trial on Tuesday, according to the paper’s editor-in-chief, Amadou Tiémogo.

A story in the September 14 edition of Le Témoin alleged that former Niger Communications Minister Mohamed Ben Omar was the subject of a criminal investigation triggered by the findings of a parliamentary inquiry last year, according to Tiémogo. The inquiry revealed the embezzlement of more than 2 billion CFA francs (US$4.5 million) in the national telecom company SONITEL and led to the arrests of executives, according to news reports. Police summoned Gaoh on Sunday morning after Omar filed a complaint, he said.

“Gaoh is the second journalist held behind bars in Niger as the government continues criminal prosecution of journalists who report on corruption,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “Gaoh should be released and the charges dropped immediately.”

Gaoh was the second journalist imprisoned in Niger after Abdoulaye Tiémogo of weekly Le Canard Déchaîné. CPJ research shows that criminal libel allegations hang over at least three other Nigerien journalists: Laoual Sallaou Ismael of La Roue de l’Histoire, Ali Soumana of Le Courrier, and Abibou Garba of the private media group Dounia.

A constitutional amendment passed in August eliminates presidential term limits, allowing President Mamadou Tanjda to seek indefinite re-election. It also allows Tanjda to tighten his grip on the press in Niger by giving him the power to name most members to the country’s media regulatory agency.