Al Jazeera TV crew briefly detained in Niger

Security forces in southwestern Niger detained for 48 hours a four-member crew of Al-Jazeera English TV while they were covering the conditions of refugees displaced by armed conflict in Nigeria, the Qatar-based station reported.

Officials on June 15, 2013, detained West Africa Correspondent Yvonne Ndege, camera operator Romuald Luyindula, producer Mohammed Abubakar, and driver Rabiu Abdullahi and took them to the city of Zinder for questioning, according to an Associated Press report citing Hasan Salim Patel, an Al Jazeera spokesman. The journalists were accused of espionage, interrogated for 10 hours, and their equipment and passports confiscated.

Patel told CPJ that the journalists did not have accreditation from the Ministry of Communications, but that they had a visa and several filming permits that had been issued by local officials. The crew was released without charge on June 17, 2013, Al-Jazeera reported. The broadcasters were working to get the equipment returned, Patel said.

The day before the arrest, Al-Jazeera had aired a report by Ndege, its correspondent, from the nearby town of Bosso that showed harsh conditions for refugees who had escaped fighting between the Nigerian military and the banned Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram.

Marou Amadou, the justice minister of Niger, told the AP that the journalists had entered the country without accreditation and had only a visa that they had gotten in Nigeria. “Administratively, we cannot accept this. They need to come to the ministry and apply for their accreditation,” he said. “We are not detaining them. We are just inspecting their material. And they are waiting for their material to be released.”

But Salifou Labo Bouché, the communications minister of Niger and a government spokesman, told CPJ that the government did not have any restrictive policies toward the press. “We do not withhold accreditation. Niger is an open country, not closed,” he said.