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Niger24 December 2003

Four months suspended prison sentence a 3,000 euros fine for publisher of Le Républicain

A court in Niamey sentenced Mamane Abou, publisher of the independent weekly Le Républicain, to a four-month suspended prison term and fined him 2 million CFA francs (about 3,000 euros) for defaming former finance minister Ali Badjo Gamatié and the current prime minister Hama Amadou. The verdict, imposed on 23 December, replaces one given in default on 7 November which sentenced Abou to six months in prison and a fine of 300,000 CFA francs (about 450 euros). He was refused bail while awaiting the verdict on the second count of the case, a charge of stealing official documents.

"We are reassured that the court replaced the prison sentence with a suspended sentence," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. "However we find it unacceptable that the head of an independent press publication can be found guilty of defamation for revealing, with supporting evidence, fraudulent practices within the government." "We call on the authorities, while waiting for the verdict on the theft of documents to grant bail to Mr Abou, who has already spent two months in prison," he added.

Reporters Without Borders reminded the authorities that, under UN recommendations, a journalist should not suffer a fine disproportionate to the offence committed and that no journalist should be jailed for press offences.

Abou has been held at Niamey civilian prison since 5 November. He was accused of publishing confidential Treasury documents, in connection with misappropriation of funds by the finance minister. The journalist remains in jail awaiting the verdict for theft of official documents. The date of the second part of the trial has not yet been announced.

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