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Cablegate: Another Journalist Arrested in Niger

VZCZCXRO3313
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #1069 3100447
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050447Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4660
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0733

UNCLAS NIAMEY 001069

DEPT FOR AF/W DENNISON, AF/RSA, DRL/AE, AND AF/PDPA LISENBY

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KCOR KPAO NG
SUBJECT: Another Journalist Arrested in Niger

Ref: 06 Niamey 741

1. (U) SUMMARY. On October 29, Nigerien journalist
Alzouma Zakari was arrested by Nigerien Judicial Police after
alleging inappropriate involvement by Minister of Interior Albade
Abouba in a government contract to provide airline transportation
during the 2008 Hajj. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Zakari is a journalist and director of publication
for the pro-opposition independent weekly "Opinions." He was
arrested under Niger's criminal libel statutes after a complaint was
filed by Minister Abouba in response to a recently-published
article.

3. (U) The article alleged that Abouba, while acting
as interim prime minister during an out-of-country trip by PM Seini
Oumaru, canceled a competitively bid contract with Sahel Airlines to
transport pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the 2008 Hajj, and awarded
the contract to Arik, a newly formed company whose owner, Moussa Dan
Foulani, reportedly has strong ties to Nigerien President Mamadou
Tandja.

4. (SBU) Sources also report that First Lady Laraba Tandja is a
shareholder in Arik.

5. (U) The GON received intense criticism for the management of last
year's Hajj after hundreds of Nigerien pilgrims were delayed in
departing, then stranded in Saudi Arabia for weeks awaiting return
transportation.

6. (U) In a decision late last week, a Nigerien court stripped the
contract from Arik, and re-awarded it to Sahel Airlines. Flights
are scheduled to begin this week.

7. (U) Zakari's hearing was scheduled for November 3, 2008, but was
continued until November 11, 2008. He remains imprisoned pending
his hearing.

8. (U) Alzouma has run afoul of GON officials previously. In 2006
his former newspaper "L'Opinion" was permanently shuttered by
Niger's media regulatory body, the Conseil Superieur de la
Communication (CSC), on grounds of having published "injurious and
defamatory statements" directed against President Tandja and his
family, incitation to revolt, and "immoral offense" (reftel). One
week after the closure of "L'Opinion," Zakari resumed publishing via
his "new" newspaper "Opinions."

ALLEN

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