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Cablegate: Journalists' Arrests Raise Questions About Gon Commitment

VZCZCXRO0058
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #1452 3461539
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121539Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3960
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC

UNCLAS NIAMEY 001452

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/W DENNISON, AF/RSA HARPOLE AND AF/PDPA MOSELEY

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KCOR KPAO NG
SUBJECT: Journalists' Arrests Raise Questions about GON Commitment
to Press Freedom Reforms

REF: (a) 06 Niamey 1088
(b) 06 Niamey 865
(c) Niamey 957
(d) Niamey 1346

1. (U) On December 5, 2007 two journalists of the private biweekly
L'Enqueteur were arrested and held in custody in Niamey.
Editor/journalist Ibrahim Souley and owner/journalist Soumana Maiga
were detained in response to a libel complaint filed by Niger's
Minister of Economy and Finance Mahamane Ali Zeine. The two
journalists were released on December 7 and are awaiting a trial
date.
2. (U) Zeine claimed that articles, which appeared in the November
19 edition of L'Enqueteur and alleged his involvement in illegal
grants of public projects and mismanagement of public finances, were
untrue and defamatory.
3. (U) Under Niger's criminal libel statutes, journalists are
subject to arrest and prosecution in criminal court. Use of these
laws to intimidate or punish journalists who allege corruption has
been a common past practice of GON officials (ref a).
4. (U) Legislative reforms aimed at decriminalizing the libel
statutes were drafted and submitted to the GON during the previous
government of PM Hama Amadou; however, they are currently stalled.
The Ministry of Justice must review and affirm the proposed reforms
on behalf of the government before they can be submitted to the
national assembly for debate and potential passage.
5. (SBU) Comment: based on the former PM's previous statements and
his own use of criminal libel statutes against media critics (ref
b), the GON's sincerity in seeking to enact and implement these
reforms has been highly suspect from the beginning. Further, recent
GON actions related to the media, including the suspensions of Radio
France International (RFI) and Agadez-based private newspaper Air
Info (ref c), the arrest and continued detention of Air Info
journalist Ibrahim Diallo (ref d) and threats by the head of Niger's
media regulatory body against the press (ref d), inspire little hope
that these reforms will be enacted any time soon.
ALLEN

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