Newspaper editor Souleymane Salha has been in police custody since 23 November, when he became the fifth journalist to be arrested in the space of ten days in Niger. This is all the more shocking as Niger was one of the first countries to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain in 2011 calling for the decriminalization of media offences.
It seems that Salha, the editor of the weekly Le Courrier, is being held at the headquarters of the judicial police in Niamey because of an article criticizing the deputy police director in connection with opposition leader Hama Amadou’s arrest on 14 November on his return to Niger after more than a year abroad. “We condemn Souleymane Salha’s arrest, which constitutes a complete violation of Niger’s press freedom legislation,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk. “Media offences have been decriminalized since 2011 and the signing of the Declaration of Table Mountain. But now five journalists have been arrested in the space of ten days. We urge the authorities to free Salha at once and stop using preventive detention to intimidate media personnel. If they think they have been defamed, other forms of recourse are available.” The other four journalists were arrested on 14 November to prevent them covering the return of Amadou, who was himself arrested on landing at Niamey’s airport. Alou Aboubacar and Abdoulaye Souley of TV Bonferey and Sidiku Harouna and Luc Ogoa of TV Niger 24 were arrested while filming police using teargas to disperse Amadou’s supporters, who responded by throwing stones. The four journalists were taken to the headquarters of the judicial police, who confiscated their equipment and mobile phones and held them the entire day before releasing them. A month earlier, on 19 Octobre, five journalist colleagues had also been arrested while they were covering a student demonstration. The policemen confiscated their equipment and searched their phones and cameras. They asked that the journalist reveal their source who had informed them of the demonstration. The Radio Bonferey team, journalists Haidara Abdoulaye and Souleymane Ousmane and their cameramen Omar Boukari and Abdoulaziz Djibrilla as well as TV Ténéré cameraman were released later that day, but their equipment was not returned to them until 24 hours later. Boubacar Diallo, former President of the Maison de la Presse says he is most worried about the fact that "the police systematically asks for journalists to reveal their source of information. This is a cleat violation of the professional journalist Niger ethics code" Niger has often been cited as an example in Africa because, in 2011, it became one of the first countries to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for media offences to be decriminalized. During a visit to Reporters Without Borders in Paris in January of this year, Niger communication minister Yahouza Sadissou told its secretary-general: “The media are free in Niger (...) We respect the law.” Niger has nonetheless not complied with its undertakings to respect media freedom in the course of 2015, including in January, were attacked by the police for reporting on violent demonstrations in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Since the arrest of exiled political opponent, Hama Amadou upon his return, the climate is even more tensed. Social networks such as Facebook and Whatsapp, as well as text messages, were blocked during almost three days after his arrest. As a result, around 20 exasperated media organizations have called for a boycott of Niger’s National Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated on 30 November, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Table Mountain. Niger is ranked 47th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.