Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Zakari Alzouma, the editor the independent weekly Opinions, was released yesterday but is astonished that he was given a three-month suspended prison sentence for supposedly libelling interior minister Albadé Abouba.
Alzouma was arrested on 30 October in response to a complaint by the interior minister about an article reporting that he “took advantage” of Prime Minister Seini Oumarou’s absence to award a US company a contract for the transport of pilgrims to Mecca that had already assigned to a local air transport company.
The local company, Sahel Airlines, sued the government and won its case. A Niamey court upheld the original contract and quashed the one with the US company.
4.11 - Newspaper editor “caught in the act” of libel, held for past five days
Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of Zakari Alzouma, the editor the independent weekly Opinions, who has been detained since 30 October in Niamey as a result of a libel complaint by the interior minister and whose case will not be heard for another week.
“Niger’s legislation on press offences comes in handy for a government that does not want to give up its bad habits,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By continuing to send journalists to prison, the authorities are just putting off the day when they will finally have to abandon their repressive ways. Furthermore, this kind of case puts Niger’s judges in embarrassing and contradictory situations resulting in absurdities.”
Alzouma was formally charged yesterday with being “caught in the act” of libel although he had already spent four days in police custody. He was due to appear in court in Niamey today but the hearing was postponed to 11 November on grounds that a piece of prosecution evidence was missing.
In the meantime, Alzouma has been placed in pre-trial custody in the main Niamey prison, with the result that he will have spent at least 13 days in detention by the time his case is finally heard.
His lawyer told Reporters Without Borders he was “very shocked by the postponement, which is completely unwarranted.” He said he also failed to understand the prosecutors’ refusal, without offering any reason, to agree to Alzouma’s conditional release. “Zakari Alzouma is charged with a press offence, not a crime,” he said. “There is no reason for keeping him in detention.”
Alzouma is being prosecuted because of an article claiming that interior minister Albadé Abouba “took advantage” of Prime Seini Oumarou’s absence to award a US company a contract for the transport of pilgrims to Mecca that had already promised to a local company.