Police arrested Baba Alpha, a journalist with the privately owned radio and television news agency Bonferey, on March 30, 2017, and charged him on April 3, 2017, with the use of false documents asserting his Nigerien nationality, according to Bonferey’s editor-in-chief, Abdourahamane Younoussa, and media reports.
A Niger court sentenced both Alpha and his father Mahamane Alpha, 70, to two years in prison, and prohibited both from public employment and accessing other benefits of a Nigerien citizenship for 10 years, according to Younoussa and media reports.
Alpha was being held in Naimy central prison, Younoussa and Ali Soumana, journalist with Le Courier newspaper and friend of Alpha, told CPJ.
Younoussa said Bonferey reported on the realities in Niger, and, as one of the agency’s reporters, “Baba was considered a straightforward journalist who did not fear the government and was not afraid to speak about sensitive subjects.”
Amadou Boubacar Mossi, Alpha’s lawyer, multiple Nigerien journalists, and rights organizations maintain Alpha’s arrest was in retaliation for his journalism. “[Alpha] is nevertheless a journalist that everyone knows who, with his pen, never caressed the power in the direction of their hair,” Mossi said in French on April 4, 2017, according to RFI.
“It looks as if they planned it, as if he was targeted,” Younoussa told CPJ, echoing Soumana’s belief that Alpha was jailed for his public and unfiltered reporting on the Nigerien government.
“We don’t credit the official reasons for his arrest with any degree of confidence,” Muheeb Saeed, a program officer with Media Freedom for West Africa, a Ghana-based press freedom organization, told CPJ.
According to Soumana, Niger authorities have claimed that Alpha used his father’s allegedly false documents, obtained from a family friend Omar Sidi, to acquire Nigerien citizenship.
Sidi, who was arrested with Alpha and his father, has subsequently been released, according to media reports and Soumana.
The journalist has filed an appeal but a court date had not been fixed as of late 2017, according to his brother, Mohamed Alpha.
CPJ’s repeated calls to the director of the judicial police, known as Rabiou, went unanswered.