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Niger Journalists Remain In Jail Despite Pressure

By Jade Heilman

Niger Journalists Remain in Jail Despite International Pressure

Two journalists in Niger remain in jail despite pressure from international watchdog groups and complaints from their lawyers that there is no evidence left against them. Their incarceration took place after they reported about the ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country. Jade Heilmann reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Radio journalist Moussa Kaka was jailed September 20 in the capital Niamey and charged with involvement in a plot against state authority.

This followed repeated telephone calls he made to the Tuareg-led rebel group the Niger Movement for Justice, known as the MNJ. Authorities had been tapping Kaka's telephone conversations with MNJ members. Based on these recordings, the prosecution called for life imprisonment.

Kaka's lawyer, Moussa Coulibaly says, the conversations were completely within the realm of journalism.

He says there was nothing unusual, and that Kaka was just working as a journalist, trying to get information about the rebellion.

To further boost Coulibaly's argument, a judge earlier this month decided not to accept the tapes as evidence in court, saying they were not obtained legally.

Leonard Vincent, head of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, explains Kaka still has not been released, because the prosecution is now appealing the decision that the tapes were obtained illegally.

"We are waiting for final decision of the appeal chamber, which it is supposed to be known in the coming days or weeks," he said. "And based on that decision we will know if the journalists can be freed or not."

Prior to his arrest, Kaka had been repeatedly warned he was too close to the rebels, and reporting about them too much. The government says the rebels are drug-traffickers and bandits using political issues as a cover for criminal activities.

The rebels say they are fighting for economic empowerment of Tuaregs on uranium-rich land.

Journalist Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, editor of the private newspaper Aïr-Info, was arrested on similar charges. He has been detained for over 50 days.

Reporters Without Borders Leonard Vincent believes these arrests stem in part from pressure the military has been putting on the government.

"The military has been confronted with the very violent acts of the Tuareg rebellion in the north and they have started to look everywhere for complicity," he added.

A government spokesman contacted for this report declined to comment.


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