New York — The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by recent detentions in Niger of journalists critical of the government. In the past week, four journalists have been held for days without charge, two of whom remain in custody, and the justice minister has warned of a crackdown.
Judicial police in the capital Niamey have since Monday detained Ousmane Dambadji, editor of L'Union, and TV presenter Zakari Abdou of independent broadcaster Canal 3 over commentary aired during a January program on Canal 3, according to local journalists and news reports. Details of commentary were not immediately available.
On January 23, judicial police detained Soumana Idrissa Maïga, editor of the independent daily l'Enquêteur, on accusations of threatening national security over a January 17 column in his newspaper in which a writer speculated that the ruling party's days in power were numbered, according to local news reports.
On January 25, Abdoulaye Mamane, presenter of a Hausa-language talk show on Radio Télévision Bonferey, was detained after a guest on his January 16 program accused the president of corruption, according to local news reports. The guest was also detained.
A magistrate on Monday ordered the release without charge of Maïga and Mamane, according to the reports and local journalists.
"Since the democratic transition of 2009, Niger's leadership has often been cited as an example for its respect of press freedom, but the government's crackdown on critical journalists threatens to roll back the country's democratic progress," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on Nigerien authorities to release the journalists still in custody and respect its own laws pertaining to the media."
Niger's 2010 press law bans pretrial detentions of journalists for offenses related to their work, according to CPJ research. In November 2011, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou became the first African head of state to endorse the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and insult laws throughout Africa.
In an interview with The Associated Press today, Justice Minister Marou Amadou accused the four journalists of issuing false accusations and "appeals to hatred and violence." Last week, in a press conference, Amadou had warned that the government would crack down on critical coverage. "Calls to ethnic hatred, insurrection or a coup, we have heard [them] in media outlets," Radio France Internationale quoted him as saying. He mentioned "youth threatening to go dislodge turn by turn the prime minister and the president of the republic, in an insurrectional style," and likened this to the Arab Spring. Amadou acknowledged the president's signing of the Table Mountain Declaration and the decriminalization of press offenses, but said that challenging the democratic framework or calling for destabilization of the country are offenses punishable by the criminal code.