Niger jails TV journalist for two years, strips him of nationality
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that a court in Niamey, the capital of Niger, yesterday sentenced Baba Alpha, a politically independent and outspoken TV journalist of Malian descent, to two years in prison on a charge of forging and using forged identity documents.
The court also stripped Baba Alpha of all civil and political rights for ten years andfined him 300,000 CFA francs (450 euros). The same sentences were imposed on his Malian-born father.
In practice, both Alpha and his father, who have been detained since 3 April, have been stripped of their Niger citizenship, their Niger identity documents will be destroyed and they are banned from working for the state.
Alpha was born in Niger and has lived there all his life. He and his father applied for Niger nationality in 2011.
Omar Sidi, a member of the National Football Federation bureau, was originally accused of forging documents for Alpha and his father. But the charges were dropped and he was freed two months ago, while the charges against Alpha and his father were changed in order to remove all suspicion from Sidi, an influential pro-government businessman.
This double standard has served to highlight the political nature of the case against Alpha. RSF calls on the authorities to overturn this grotesque and disproportionate sentence, one clearly designed to silence a journalist who is well known both for his professionalism and his critical view of governance in Niger.
Mossi Boubacar, the lawyer defending Alpha and his father, described their sentences as “unlawful in the light of human rights and democracy” and said he planned to appeal.
“Baba Alpha has been declared stateless by this decision, which violates international conventions ratified by Niger and the country’s own law, Boubacar said. Baba Alpha was born in Niger and grew up here. He has no other nationality but the nationality of Niger, and it is this nationality that has now been taken from him.”
A news presenter for Bonferey, an independent TV channel, Alpha is also general secretary of the National Union of Information and Communication Workers (SYNATIC) and a former president of Niger’s House of the Press. He has often been outspoken in his criticism of the government on Facebook and in his Bonferey studio broadcasts, and once turned down the offer of a job with the president’s office.
In protest against media freedom violations in Niger, he called for a boycott of the traditional ceremony that President Mahamadou Issoufou organized in July 2016 to mark the end of the Ramadan fast.
His imprisonment has all the hallmarks of an attempt to prevent him from expressing his views freely although the official grounds seems to have nothing to do with his journalistic work and his defence of free speech.
Sixty-one African journalists who are members of the Ouagadougou-based Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO) issued ajoint statement on 20 April calling for his release and voicing alarm about the decline in respect for media freedom in Niger.
Niger is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017World Press Freedom Index.