Today’s decision by the Higher Council for Communication (CSC) to close privately-owned radio Sahara FM, the main radio station in the northern city of Agadez, is an authoritarian blunder that will just aggravate the situation in Niger’s strife-ridden northern region, Reporters Without Borders said.
“A jittery government is adopting increasingly repressive measures that are counter-productive,” the press freedom organisation said. “This decision is dangerous as it deprives the public of an independent news source in the country’s most troubled region. Without it, rumour and confusion will hold sway. We respect the people of Niger and we therefore think that in a time of crisis they have right to complete and diversified news coverage.”
The CSC, which is in charge of regulating Niger’s media, announced Sahara FM’s closure today after the station broadcast interviews with people who had been the victims of abuses by government soldiers. The CSC said it was closing it down for an “indefinite” period and “without prejudice to the possibility of criminal prosecutions.”
Sahara FM director Raliou Hamed-Assaleh was summoned to the capital Niamey on 18 April after the governor and police chief of Agadez accused the station of broadcasting “dangerous” statements by local inhabitants that “appeal to ethnic hate and undermine army morale.”
“All we did was broadcast an account of something that happened,” Hamed-Assaleh told Reporters Without Borders.
A report issued by Amnesty International on 3 April described a “new wave of extrajudicial executions” and “forced disappearances” by the army in the Agadez region.
Moussa Kaka, the director of Niamey-based Radio Saraounia and the Niger correspondent of both Radio France Internationale and Reporters Without Borders, has been held since 20 September for being in phone contact with Tuareg rebels operating in the north. He has been charged with “complicity in an attack on state authority.”
Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, the editor of the Agadez-based fortnightly Aïr Info, was arrested for similar reasons on 20 October. He was released on 6 February.