Reporters Without Borders welcomes the release, at the end of their appeal hearing, of Maman Abou and Oumaru Keita, respectively publisher and editor of the privately-owned weekly Le Républicain.
"The release of our colleagues is good news for press freedom in Niger. We hope that this case is now definitely finished with and that the government of Niger will take the opportunity to finally reform the law, so that more harmonious relations can be established between the press and the authorities,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
The prosecutor at the 27 November appeal considered that the 18-month jail sentence, five million CFA francs (7,600 euros) damages and 300,000 CFA francs (450 euros) fine for “spreading false news” and “defamation” was too harsh.
He called for 9 months in prison, six of them suspended, and since the two journalists had already served nearly four months in prison, they were released at the end of the hearing. The verdict will be delivered on 11 December.
01.09.2006 - Newspaper’s publisher and editor get 18 months in prison and heavy fines for criticising prime minister
Reporters Without Borders said it was horrified by the severity of the 18-month prison sentences and heavy fines imposed today by a Niamey court on Maman Abou, the publisher of the privately-owned weekly Le Républicain, and his editor, Oumarou Keïta, for an article criticising Prime Minister Hama Amadou.
“These sentences are absurd and grossly unfair,” the press freedom organisation said. “There has been repeated denial of justice in this case. Firstly, they were arrested in an outrageous manner. Then they were detained far from their homes without being able to see anyone. And now they have been tried by a court that was clearly bent on punishing them from the outset.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Everything suggests that Abou and Keïta are now the prime minister’s personal prisoners. President Mamadou Tandja should realise that these heavy sentences will not benefit either Niger or his prime minister and constitute a serious breach of press freedom.”
Abou and Keïta were accused by the government of “disseminating false news” and “libel” in a 28 July article critical of the prime minister. The 18-month prison sentences were what the prosecution requested, while the fines of 5 million CFA francs (7,600 euros) were 100 times what the court had been asked to impose on Keïta. The journalists’ lawyers have already lodged an appeal.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard sent a personal letter to the prime minister on 23 August asking him “to withdraw the complaint against Le Républicain and to embark on a new relationship with the public and privately-owned press, one based on the need to establish news rules of operating.”
Underlining the organisation’s strong opposition to draconian laws for press offences, the letter argued: “Imprisoning journalists for offences linked to their work is counter-productive. Instead of obtaining reparation in a fair and credible debate, you end up - rightly or wrongly - being blamed for two high-profile political prisoners, with a discredited judicial system and with a reputation of inflexibility and inhumaneness.” The letter did not get a reply.
Meanwhile, the Niamey prosecutor’s office today requested a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs (150 euros) for Saliss Dago, the editor of the privately-owned weekly L’Enquêteur, for “disseminating false news” in a 14 August article entitled “Black mass at Muslim cemetery.”
The article claimed that children were being killed during animist rituals at one of the capital’s cimentary. Arrested on 28 August, Dago is being held in Niamey’s main prison pending the outcome of the trial.