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Niger2 July 2008

In baffling move, government closes Niamey’s “House of the Press”

Reporters Without Borders is baffled by the communication ministry’s decision on 30 June to close down Niamey’s House of the Press, a centre used by journalists for various activities, including training seminars organised by the French and US embassies.

The press freedom organisation voices its support for the journalist organisations and House of the Press members who issued a joint statement today saying they were “surprised and shocked” by the government’s “unjustified decision.”

“This decision will just worsen the already fraught relations between the government and the privately-owned press,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The lack of a clear explanation by the communication ministry compounds the unfairness of this arbitrary measure, whose legal basis is questionable. We urge the government to reverse this decision.”

Communication minister and government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar announced in a 30 June release that the House of the Press was being closed “until further notice” on the grounds that it had become “the hostage of certain external groups with unavowed intentions.”

At a meeting he subsequently called with House of the Press officials with the declared aim of giving them a piece of “grave information,” Omar said the “external interest groups” were “French and American” but did not elaborate.

A communication ministry official later collected the keys of the House of the Press from those in charge and did an inventory of all of its equipment and furniture. The House of the Press was a gift from Niger’s government.

The statement issued today by journalist organisations and House of the Press members insisted that no irregularities had been noted in its management and that it was independent of “any group, external or national.” It added that “measures are under way to ensure continuity in the activities of the House of the Press, which has not been dissolved.”

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