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Area: 1,267,000 sq. km.
Population: 13,957,000.
Language: French.
Head of state: Mamadou Tandja.

Niger - Annual Report 2007

The crisis prompted by the imprisonment, at the end of 2003, of the management of the weekly Le Républicain, which had been highly-critical of the government, pushed President Mamadou Tandja to promise reform of the press law. In 2006, this promise has not been kept and the Républicain management went back to jail.

On 1st September 2006, the high court in Niamey sentenced Maman Abou and Oumarou Keita, respectively publisher and editor of the privately-owned weekly Le Républicain, to 18 months in prison, 5 million CFA francs (7,600 euros) damages and a 300,000 CFA francs (about 460 euros) fine for “spreading false news” and “defamation”. The prison sentences reflected the penalty called for by the prosecutor, while the fine was 100 times what the public ministry had asked for against Oumarou Keita. The two men were arrested on 4 August, on the basis of a complaint lodged by the state of Niger against an article in the Républicain published on 28 July. The story, headlined “Hama drops the West for Iran”, accused the Prime Minister Hama Amadou of "strenuously wooing the Iranians", risking a split with “Western foreign ministries and liquidating all businesses belong to Whites”. Maman Abou, told Reporters Without Borders from custody that he believed their arrests were intended to punish Le Républicain for publication in April of a report into embezzlement of funds within the administration. This investigation led to an audit by Niger’s international donors.

The government did not give way in the face of the outcry provoked by this case and in particular the prime minister remained immoveable despite multiple appeals from press freedom organisations.

The journalists had to wait for their appeal, on 27 November, before they were finally released. The prosecutor ruled that the sentence imposed by the lower court was too harsh. He called for nine months imprisonment, six of them suspended. Since the two journalists had already spent nearly four months in prison they were released at the end of the hearing.

Apart from these two journalists, for whom this was not their first brush with the authorities, three other highly-placed journalists went to prison in Niger in 2006. But these cases were different and much less political. These three journalists got on the wrong side of the law mostly after departing from the elementary rules of journalism by publishing sensationalist, unchecked or exaggerated reports.

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