Reporters Without Borders today condemned three-month suspended prison sentences handed down for libel against the weekly l’Evénement journalists Moussa Aksar and Sani Aboubacar.
The worldwide press freedom organisation also deplored the fact that they have both already spent six days in custody in Niamey central prison.
The paper’s editor, Moussa Aksar and journalist Sani Aboubacar were arrested on 12 November after the publication on 29 September of articles about “mismanagement” of the Niger power company Nigelec and “fraudulent hiring” of the sister of President Mamadou Tandja’s chief of staff.
“For the second time in a month, journalists have been held in custody for defamation cases. We can only remind the Niger authorities that imprisonment is neither an appropriate or fair response in media cases”, Reporters Without Borders said.
The editor and journalist on the privately-owned paper were released today after sentencing by the Niamey correctional court. They were also each fined 50,000 CFA francs (about 76 euros) and each ordered to pay 500,000 FCFA (about 760 euros) in damages to the complainant, Foukori Ibrahim, the head of Nigelec.
Both journalists immediately appealed against the verdict which Aksar described to Reporters Without Borders as “harsh” and the authorities reaction “disproportionate”, since it concerned a disagreement between himself and an “ordinary individual”.
Another journalist, Zakari Alzouma, received the same suspended three-month sentence for defamation on 11 October 2008.
14.11 - Editor and reporter arrested a day after another editor got suspended sentence
Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests of Moussa Aksar, the editor of the privately-owned weekly L’Evénement, and one of his journalists, Sani Aboubacar, on 12 November on a charge of libelling the head of the state power company. Their arrests came a day after another newspaper editor got a three-month suspended sentence after 12 days in pre-trial custody.
“What redress do plaintiffs get from imprisoning journalists?” Reporters Without Borders asked “And if the journalists are finally acquitted, won’t innocent people have been jailed? Many questions are raised by these arrests. By not keeping its election promises to amend the law and by not giving itself appropriate tools for handling defamation cases, Niger’s government has chosen to subject civil society to deliberate legal injustice and thereby undermine the country’s democratic institutions.”
Aksar and Aboubacar were arrested and transferred to Niamey prison when they went to the Niamey prosecutor’s office in response to a warrant for their arrest issued the day before. The police already arrested them on 3 November in connection with same case, releasing them later that day pending the case’s transfer to the prosecutor’s office.
The case was initially due to be tried yesterday, but was postponed to 17 November. Meanwhile, court officials refused to consider their request for provisional release. They are charged with being “caught in the act” of libel and, according to their lawyer, Mounkaïla Yayé, this means the judicial authorities cannot defer trial without ruling on their provisional release request.
Their arrests were the result of a complaint by Foukori Ibrahim, the head of the power company Nigelec, about articles published on 29 September referring to his “mismanagement” and the “fraudulent hiring” of the sister of President Mamadou Tandja’s chief of staff. The articles also reported that the consul to the Netherlands, Smith Degener, had a fatal heart attack after a discussion with Ibrahim.