In a terrible start to the year for journalists in Niger, L'Événement news website editor Moussa Aksar was given a two-month suspended jail sentence and freelance reporter Samira Sabou got a one-month suspended jail sentence for publishing a report by the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) in May.
Describing Niger as a “nerve centre” of regional drug trafficking, the GI-TOC report said that, according to multiple sources, part of a big hashish haul seized by the Nigerien authorities in March 2021 had been reacquired by the traffickers, and blamed this on close links between traffickers and part of Niger’s political and military elite.
The court’s decision to convict the two journalists is all the more shocking given that Niger’s Central Office for the Suppression of Illegal Traffic in Narcotics (OCRTIS), which initiated the proceedings against them, finally withdrew its complaint on 27 December.
“We strongly condemn these sentences, which make absolutely no legal sense and which, in practice, can only help to encourage drug trafficking and its promoters,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa Desk. “This decision further discredits Niger’s political and judicial authorities and their constant persecution of journalists who shine a light on corruption in this country.”
In a statement issued on 2 January, the GI-TOC stressed its support for the two journalists and denounced the prosecution’s decision to seek jail terms as “a craven response intended to silence legitimate questioning and debate centred on drug trafficking and its corruptive power.”
One of the nominees for the RSF Press Freedom Prize for Independence in 2021, Aksar has received ten court summons in the past two years and was fined the equivalent of 1,830 euros last June for participating in an international journalistic investigation that exposed the embezzlement of large sums of public money in connection with arms purchases.
Niger is ranked 59th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.