Moussa Aksar, editor of the newspaper L'Evénement, was fined 200,000 CFA francs (approximately 305 euros) and ordered to pay 1 million CFA francs (1,525 euros) in compensation over an investigation into the misappropriation of funds which broke last year in Niger.
In his story, published last September, he disclosed how tens of millions of euros were misappropriated by senior officials, in the army and close to the government, by overbilling for military equipment, supplying faulty weapons and in unfulfilled contracts.
Intimidated and threatened with death in the course of his investigations, he was eventually sued for defamation by a Niger citizen living in Belgium whom the investigation alleged had set up a shell company.
Aksar has appealed the verdict.
“The system for misappropriation of funds disclosed by this journalist is bad enough and to it we must now add his conviction for carrying out his outstanding investigative work,” commented Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This decision will serve to encourage bad governance and is an attack on investigative journalism in Niger. The message it sends out is a disaster. RSF pledges its full support for this editor and demands his acquittal at the appeal hearing.”
Aksar is chairman of the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO) and a member of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), with which he worked on the investigation. Contacted by RSF, he said he would continue his work on “this matter of state”. At the time of his conviction he was still awaiting a response to his complaint about threatening messages he received from Niger arms dealer Aboubakar Hima Massi, nicknamed “Petit Boubé”.
Niger fell two places in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF and now lies in 59th position out of 180 countries.