Press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution in Niger. The 25 July 1997 law also stipulates that "the press and audio-visual media, as well as broadcasting and printing, are free; access to information is the citizen’s inalienable right". Yet during the year many voices were raised in protest against obstacles to press freedom. In a common communiqué published on 11 January, journalists of the private-sector press accused the government of "stifling press freedom" through "intimidation and police hauls". They also denounced "endless series of trials". The courts replied that they were simply applying the law. Magistrates noted that in February 2001 the Niamey court of first instance had dismissed a case in which a journalist from the privately-owned radio station R et M had been accused of "libel". The court had rejected the complaint lodged by a leader of the SNAD, the customs officials’ union, one of the country’s biggest trade unions.
The authorities are often behind complaints against journalists. For the first time, on 7 May, the state president himself laid charges against a publication. A few days before that the privately-owned daily Mat Info had written that President Mamadou Tanja had gone to Morocco for a "medical visit", whereas the government press had reported "an official visit" intended to "strengthen cooperation between the two countries". After receiving the newspaper’s undertaking to "publish a denial", the president withdrew his complaint on 18 May, the day the trial opened.
Ten years after its appearance the private-sector press is still suffering from severe economic difficulties which limit its independence. Newspapers’ income is hopelessly inadequate to cover their heavy expenses. Over two thirds of Niger’s population is illiterate and the advertising market is small. The state, the main advertiser in the country, often buys most of its advertising space from the public-sector daily Le Sahel and its Sunday edition Sahel Dimanche.
One journalist jailed
One journalist jailed in 2000 was released in 2001.
The founder and owner of the weekly L’Enquêteur, Sumana Maïga, was released on parole on 22 January 2001. He had been sentenced on 16 November 2000 to eight months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (769 euros). Dahirou Gouro and Salif Dago, respectively managing editor and journalist with L’Enquêteur, had received a six-month suspended jail sentence and a fine of 300,000 CFA francs (460 euros). The three journalists had been found guilty of "disturbing public order" and "spreading false news". L’Enquêteur had been sued by the defence minister after publishing an article about a quarrel between Benin and Niger over the Island of Lété. Dahirou Gouro and Salif Dago had been released after the hearing, while Sumana Maïga had been taken to jail to serve his sentence. Other media, especially state-owned television, had also reported events on Lété Island.
One journalist was jailed and then released in 2001.
The Niamey court of first instance sentenced Abdoulaye Tiémogo, managing editor of the weekly Le Canard Déchaîné, on 19 October to six months in jail for "libel". He also had to pay a fine of 100,000 CFA francs (153) euros and 5 million CFA francs (7,600 euros) in damages to the agriculture minister, Wassalké Boukari. The minister had lodged a complaint against Le Canard Déchaîné for publishing an article stating that the minister had misappropriated 200 million CFA francs (305,000 euros) from a gold-bearing region in western Niger. Other newspapers subsequently wrote about the affair. After the trial Abdoulaye Tiémogo was immediately taken to Niamey civilian jail. On the morning of 7 December, at the opening of the appeal court hearing, the agriculture minister withdrew his complaint and the journalist was immediately released. "It was a political trial" he said, leaving the jail. "I was arrested following an investigation in the field. The authorities don’t want us to go too far", he added.
Cissé Souleymane Mahamane, journalist with the weekly Alternative, and a TV crew from the privately-owned channel Ténéré TV, were assaulted on 21 February 2001 by about 15 policemen while covering clashes during a student demonstration in Niamey. Their tapes were confiscated.
Pressure and obstruction
On 20 November 2001 parliament passed the 2002 finance law, thus amending the press company tax regime. Since 1999 press institutions had had to pay only one annual trading licence of 160,000 to 200,000 CFA francs (244 to 305 euros). In terms of the new law, they additionally have to pay a tax on industrial and commercial revenue, value-added tax, an apprenticeship tax calculated on the basis of the wage bill, and a land tax for owners of their own premises. They also have to have an accounting department and submit an annual statement of accounts. On 3 December the managing editors of private-sector media went on a protest strike. No privately-owned newspaper was published until 7 December, and a radio silence was organised during the day on 8 December. While parliament expressed its concern about "broadening
its tax base", press owners and managers put out a common communiqué denouncing the intention to "silence the independent media".
Journalists from several privately-owned media (Ténéré TV, Radio Saraounia, the newspaper Alternative, the BBC, etc.) were harassed by members of the ruling MNSD (the National Movement for a Developing Society) during the 4th party congress on 22 December in Niamey. The television crew’s equipment was damaged and the radio reporter’s tape was confiscated. Journalists with public-sector media covering the congress were not harassed.