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Cablegate: Another Journalist Jailed in Niger

VZCZCXRO4716
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #0702/01 2681633
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251633Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5347
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NIAMEY 000702

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

Ref: a) Niamey 567 b) Niamey 619

NIAMEY 00000702 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) Summary: Ibrahim Soumana Gaoh, director of a private weekly
newspaper, is the latest journalist to be arrested in Niger for
criticizing the government. Security officials arrested him on
September 20 for defaming the Minister of Communications and
Government Spokesman by implying he was complicit in an embezzlement
scandal at the telecommunications firm SONITEL. Embassy Public
Affairs Officer (PAO) met with the President of the Network of
Journalists for Human Rights, who said that it is rare for
journalists to persevere in such cases. He added that Gaoh and his
accuser are actually acquaintances, and that mutual friends are
trying to broker a settlement. This arrest continues the
unfortunate but steady erosion of press freedoms in Niger. End
summary.

Independent Journalist Gaoh Arrested
------------------------------------
2. (U) Security officials arrested the director of the private news
weekly "Le Temoin," Ibrahim Soumana Gaoh, on September 20 for
alleged defamation after publishing an article accusing the Minister
of Communications and Government Spokesperson of embezzlement. On
September 23, the Office of the Tribunal Prosecutor charged Gaoh
with defamation and ordered him held without bail until his trial on
September 29. Security officials transferred Gaoh from police
custody to the Niamey Civil Prison.

SONITEL Embezzlement Alleged
----------------------------
3. (U) The September 14 edition of "Le Temoin" alleged that the
Minister Mohamed Ben Omar was involved in major financial
misappropriation at the telecommunications firm SONITEL in an
article called, "Wassosso (Note: a Hausa word for scandal. End
note.) a la SONITEL." The article tied Ben Omar to a scandal
disclosed by a 2008 parliamentary investigation that found the
embezzlement from SONITEL of between four and eight million CFA
(approximately USD 900,000 to 1.8 m). (Note: Current exchange rate
is 445 CFA = 1 USD. End note.) The scandal contributed to the
revocation of the license of the Chinese-Libyan major shareholder
and SONITEL's subsequent re-nationalization. Ben Omar responded by
filing a complaint against Gaoh, leading to his arrest.

The President of RJDH Weighs In
-------------------------------
4. (SBU) On September 23, PAO discussed the Gaoh case with
Abdourahamane Ousmane, President of both the Network of Journalists
for Human Rights (RJDH) and the Board of the Maison de la Presse, a
public and private media umbrella organization. (Note: Ousmane
will participate in the Edward R. Murrow IVL Program for Journalists
beginning on September 26, 2009. End note.) Ousmane is an
associate and personal friend of Gaoh's and had visited him in
prison. Ousmane said that this is yet another worrisome
development, and told PAO that in similar cases involving charges of
libel against highly-placed authority figures, the accused are
rarely granted provisional release and almost always convicted.
Ousmane said that Gaoh told him that while "Le Temoin" did not have
material evidence of embezzlement involving Ben Omar, he did have a
reliable source. According to Ousmane, in similar cases lacking
physical evidence to substantiate the journalists' claims, judges
nearly always ruled against them.

5. (SBU) Ousmane mentioned that Gaoh and Ben Omar have similar
backgrounds and mutual friends. They studied at university together
and graduated in the same class. A group of mutual friends and
associates in the communications sector is trying to mediate a
settlement between the two parties. Thus, according to Ousmane,
advocates for press freedoms, such as RJDH (his organization) and
the association of independent press editors (ANEPI), have been
asked to moderate their reaction until mediation attempts have run
their course.

Update on Tiemogo, another Jailed Journalist
--------------------------------------------
6. (SBU) Gaoh joins another imprisoned journalist, Abdoulaye
Tiemogo, director of the independent news weekly "Le Canard
Dechaine," held since August 18, 2009. Tiemogo received a sentence
of three months for "discrediting a judicial decision" by
criticizing the arrest warrant for former Prime Minister Hama Amadou
on the private television channel Dounia on July 31 (ref A). In an
official press statement on August 17, Embassy called for the
release of Tiemogo and for the rule of law and civil liberties,
including the rights of free association, speech and press to be
respected. This press release received wide, positive coverage in
the independent media (ref B).

NIAMEY 00000702 002.2 OF 002

Comment
-------
7. (SBU) The arrest of Gaoh continues the trend of eroding press
freedoms in Niger, following the arrest of eight journalists in the
run-up to the constitutional referendum on August 4, 2009 (ref A).
As the President of Niger maneuvers to consolidate his recent
political gains, it appears that the GoN is continuing its
harassment and intimidation of the local media prior to National
Assembly elections on October 20. End comment.

ALLEN

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