5 September 2006

Niger: Two Journalists Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison With No Parole

press release

On 1 September 2006, a regional court in Niamey sentenced Mamane Abou, publication director, and Oumarou Keita, managing editor of the weekly "Le Republicain", to 18 months in prison each on two counts of "publishing false information" and "defaming the state of Niger". The court also fined Abou and Keita 5 million CFA Francs (approx. US$9,700) each.

According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-Niger sources, the two were sentenced despite the defence counsel's pending petition to a higher court of appeal contesting the legality of the trial process.

The two journalists were facing a summary trial, in contravention of the Niger media laws. The Appeal Court is expected to deliver judgement on 11 September.

At the last hearing, on 14 August, lawyers of the two journalists, Moussa Coulibaly and Souley Oumarou, walked out of the court, protesting the lack of guarantee of their right to defend their clients.

The lawyers also questioned the impartiality of presiding judge Chaibou Moussa, who had sentenced Abou to six months' imprisonment in 2003 for allegedly stealing an administrative document and for defamation. An appeal court later overturned the ruling and freed Abou.

Following the boycott by the defence lawyers, Abou and Keita also decided not to cooperate with the court in the absence of their lawyers.

On the two counts, the State Prosecutor had requested 18 months each and a fine of 70,000 CFA Francs (approx. US$140) each.

The two journalists have been held incommunicado in prisons on the outskirts of Niamey, outside the administrative jurisdiction of the court. Defence counsels have said this could adversely affect the security of the two journalists.

After the ruling, Moussa Coulibaly described the regional court's decision as the "biggest political and judicial scandal faced by the country," since it is the first time a judge at a lower court has disobeyed a superior court's injunction.

The 27 July 2006 edition of the "Le Republicain" published Keita's article suggesting that the government was strengthening diplomatic relations with Iran and Venezuela to the neglect of western countries.

The State of Niger lodged a complaint that led to the arrest and detention of the two journalists.

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