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Niger20 July 2007

One-month ban on RFI broadcasts fuels concern about rapid decline in press freedom

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about a rapid deterioration in press freedom in Niger, especially in the north, following the imposition yesterday of a one-month ban on retransmission of the programmes of the French public radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) throughout the country.

“There have been many press freedom violations since fighting broke out in the north of the country,” the organisation said. “It is time the government kept its promises. In 2003, President Mamadou Tandja promised to amend the law in order to decriminalize press offences. The required amendments were supposed to have been completed in March of this year, but nothing was done.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Daouda Diallo, the chairman of the High Council for Communication (CSC), should also understand that systematically cracking down on critical journalists is not in the country’s interest and, on the contrary, just fuels tension.”

It was the CSC that yesterday suspended RFI broadcasts for one month, accusing it of covering the fighting in the northern Agadez region in an “unbalanced and biased” manner and of broadcasting “mendacious reports hiding the reality” of what was taking place there

The CSC suspended the fortnightly Aïr-Info for three months at the end of June for publishing reports on the fighting between the army and the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), a Tuareg rebel group. It also sent warnings to three other newspapers - Libération, L’Opinion and L’Evènement - for the same reason. All for newspapers are accused of “trying to justify criminal activity and violence.”

Aïr-Info editor Ibrahim Manzo Diallo reacted to the three-month suspension by launching a new weekly newspaper called Info-Aïr on 9 July with the declared aim of “providing reliable information” about the situation in the north. He was detained for several hours at the gendarmerie in Agadez on 12 July and questioned about his reasons for launching the new newspaper.

The authorities banned visiting RFI reporter Ghislaine Dupont from travelling to the north of the country on 11 July. Moussa Kaka, who is the Reporters Without Borders and RFI correspondent in Niamey, said he received a death threat on 14 July from army chief of staff Gen. Moumouni Boureima.

Niger’s oil- and uranium-rich north has seen frequent clashes between Tuareg rebels and the army since the start of February. The government refuses to acknowledge the existence of a rebellion and refers to the MNJ’s leaders as “bandits” or “assailants” who want to “seize Niger’s interests.”

MNJ leader Agaly Alambo told AFP he was “definitely not” seeking independence and that the movement’s only condition for a return to peace was greater recognition of Tuareg rights, above all by means of greater integration into the army, paramilitary units and the mining sector.

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