Idrissa Soumana Maïga, editor of L'Enquêteur, was charged with "undermining national defense" on April 29, 2024. (Photo: Mohamadou Harouna)

Journalist Idrissa Soumana Maïga detained for ‘undermining national defense’ in Niger

Dakar, May 7, 2024 — Nigerien authorities must immediately release Idrissa Soumana Maïga, editor of the privately owned newspaper L’Enquêteur, and allow him to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

An investigative judge at the court in Niamey, the capital, charged Maïga with “undermining national defense” and ordered his transfer to Niamey prison on April 29, according to news reports and his lawyer, Ousmane Ben Kafougou, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.

If convicted, he could face between five and 10 years in prison, according to the penal code.

“Nigerien authorities must drop the spurious charges against editor Idrissa Soumana Maïga, immediately release him, and ensure he can work without threat of arrest,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program. “Officials must respond to questions from journalists who are holding power to account and stop criminalizing the public interest work of Niger’s media.”

Niamey judicial police arrested Maïga four days earlier, on April 25, and questioned him about a L’Enquêteur article published the same day about allegations that Russian agents placed listening devices in public buildings.

“Maïga did not assert these allegations himself, but rather asked questions based on an article in the (French) newspaper Le Figaro,” L’Enquêteur said in an April 27 statement on Facebook.

Kafougou told CPJ that pre-trial detention or arrest warrants for press offenses in Niger are prohibited under the press freedom ordinance. The judicial authorities justified Maïga’s pre-trial detention in court by saying that “the facts are serious enough and that he should be detained in prison for the purposes of the investigation,” Kafougou said.

CPJ’s calls to the publicly listed number of Niger’s justice ministry went unanswered.

In October 2023, Nigerien authorities charged journalist Samira Sabou with disseminating data likely to disturb public order and maintaining “intelligence with a foreign power.” After 11 days in detention, they released her under judicial supervision.

In July 2023, Niger’s military took control of the government in a coup that overthrew its democratically elected president. Since then, CPJ and other press freedom groups have raised concerns about journalists’ safety in the country.