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Cablegate: Jailed Journalists Fail On Appeal: 18 Months

VZCZCXRO2636
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #1088 2701611
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271611Z SEP 06 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2940
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS NIAMEY 001088

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT: FOR AF/W, BACHMAN; AF/RSA FOR HARPOLE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KCOR KPAO NG
SUBJECT: JAILED JOURNALISTS FAIL ON APPEAL: 18 MONTHS
PRISON FOR EACH

REF: A. NIAMEY 865

B. NIAMEY 847

1. Mamane Abou and Oumarou Keita, jailed publisher and
editor-in-chief of Niger's leading opposition weekly, "Le
Republican," had appealed their September 1 convictions and
eighteen month prison sentences to the Niamey Court of
Appeals (reftel A). On September 25, that court ruled against
them - re-affirming the sentences, which both men have
effectively been serving since their arrest and imprisonment
on August 4. Given the weakness of their legal case (reftel
A), the result was not surprising. However, to the extent
that the charges reflected an attempt by the Government of
Niger (GON) and Prime Minister Hama Amadou to punish "Le
Republican" for its earlier, unimpeachable, reporting on
corruption issues, the new verdict is a sad one for Nigerien
civil society and the free press that often best represents
it.

2. Meanwhile, on September 15, Salifou Dago, editor of the
independent newspaper "L'Enqueteur," was sentenced to six
months imprisonment for "tarnishing the image of the
country," after his paper printed a story relating to an
alleged human sacrifice in the Niamey cemetery. According to
Press FSN, Dago has a reputation for printing rumors and
erroneous information, and there is no evidence to suggest
that this story was any exception; however, post sources
indicate that the GON's response may have been more forceful
due to the fact that the story gained considerable currency
in the Nigerien street. The director of the same paper was
detained for questioning by the Detective Branch of the
Nigerien National Police on September 22 after writing an
article on the public education funds scandal (reftel B),
which featured documents obtained from the Ministry of Basic
Education. Ironically, the director himself had played a
minor role in the education scandal. He recently reimbursed
the GON 300,000 CFA (approximately $580.00) after having
allegedly sold inferior grade paper to the school system. He
was released on September 25.

3. Finally, Ibrahim Manzo, the editor of another small
private weekly, "L'Autre Observateur" was called for
questioning by the Niamey prosecutor after he published an
article accusing the director of the GON's public
transportation authority of embezzling funds. The editor is
scheduled to appear before the Niamey prosecutor to address
the director's allegations of defamation on September 29.

4. COMMENT: Collectively, these vignettes paint a picture of
the ongoing clash between often unprofessionalmedia and a
government with little respect for te concept of press
freedom. Since PM Amadou's Auust 5 press conference in which
he threatened towield Niger's criminal defamation laws
against unprofessional journalists (reftel A), the pace of
rosecutions has accelerated. Whether commenting o issues
profound or bizarre - and the above examles suggest the
range - Nigerien journalists areat risk of costly legal
retaliation. At best, this spate of prosecutions is a poor
way to curb the excesses of a loquacious and immature private
press; at worst, it represents a real step back for a country
that has realized significant advances in press freedom over
the last fifteen years. END COMMENT
ALLEN

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