Maman Abou

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Police officers arrested Abou, director of the private weekly newspaper Le Républicain, at the newspaper’s offices in the capital, Niamey. He was transferred to Central Prison in Niamey the same day.

On November 7, Abou was sentenced to six months in prison for criminal defamation at a closed, secret trial. Neither Abou nor his lawyers were present at the trial, according to Abou’s colleagues. The journalist was also ordered to pay two fines, one of 300,000 CFA francs (US$530), and another of 10 million CFA francs (US$17,560).

The sentence stemmed from a July article in Le Républicain thataccused several government ministers of using unauthorized treasury funds to pay for government contracts. The article alleged that several contracts had been awarded to government supporters without allowing competitive bidding, according to Le Républicain staff. The newspaper also published several documents, allegedly from the Public Treasury, along with the article. Following the article’s publication, Prime Minister Hama Amadou announced on state television that he would pursue defamation charges against Le Républicain, according to local journalists.

After the sentence was delivered, Abou was transferred from Central Prison in Niamey to a prison in the town of Say, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south.

On December 23, after the defamation charge against Abou had been appealed, Niamey’s Correctional Court amended the journalist’s sentence, changing it from six months in prison to a suspended sentence of four months. The fines were also reduced to 100,000 (US$190) and 2 million CFA francs (US$3,780), respectively.

However, Abou was kept in prison under so-called preventive detention on a second charge of complicity in stealing and possessing confidential government documents. The possession charge falls under the country’s criminal code and can carry a sentence of several years in prison, according to local journalists.

On January 6, 2004, an appeals court granted Abou a provisional release, and he was freed from jail. His lawyer said he could soon be summoned for hearings on the possession charges.