Niger: Two journalists arrested in disturbing setback for press freedom
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arbitrary arrests of two journalists in the past two months in Niger. They constitute a disturbing reversal for press freedom in a country that had seen significant progress in recent years. One of the journalists is still being held.
The latest victim is Ali Soumana, the founder and editor of the newspaper Le Courrier and a member of the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO), who spent two days in police custody after being summoned for questioning by the judicial police in the capital, Niamey, on 12 July. The authorities accuse him of “writing and publishing false information” in an article – published on 11 July and widely shared on social media – in which he quoted sources as saying that companies found to have overbilled for military equipment were currently negotiating repayment terms to avoid prosecution. According to the defence ministry’s final audit, the state lost around 50 million euros as a result of this over-charging, which has been a front-page story in Niger’s press for several weeks.
Samira Sabou, a freelance journalist and blogger who runs the Mides-Niger website, has meanwhile been held since 10 June when she was arrested for linking Sani Issoufou Mahamadou, a presidential adviser and son of the country’s president, to the same over-billing case in a Facebook post. The prosecution requested a five-week prison sentence for Sabou on 14 July in a trial expected to conclude on 28 July.
Instead of being tried under Niger’s 2010 press law, which prohibits imprisonment for press offences, she is being tried under the controversial 2019 cyber-crime law, which provides for sentences of between six months and three years in prison for online defamation.
“These arrests of journalists send a disturbing signal and represent a serious setback for press freedom in a country that had seen significant progress in this area in recent years,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We urge the authorities to drop all proceeding against the journalist who has been released, and to free the journalist who is still in prison. These arrests also reflect the danger that the new cyber-crime law poses to journalism in Niger. Ending prison sentences for press offences was a major step forward that must not be bypassed now in order to attack online media. Journalists are not cyber-criminals.”
The press law was already circumvented in 2017 in order to arrest Soumana under the penal code on a charge of obtaining a judicial document by fraudulent means after he published a prosecutor’s summing-up in a legal case.
Niger is ranked 57th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, nine places higher than in 2019.