Niger: Court adjourns journalist’s trial for defamation

A court in Niger has adjourned to January 9, 2023, the case in which Moussa Aksar, editor of the Niger-based newspaper L’Evénement, is appealing a decision against him for defamation. The appeal case opened on 10 October 2022.

In May 2021, the investigative journalist had appealed a ruling by a court in Niger to pay a fine of 200,000 CFA francs (about 305 euros) and one million CFA francs (about 1,525 euros) in damages.

Moussa told the MFWA on the phone that he and his lawyers had pleaded with a court for more time so that new French lawyers who have decided to join his defense team can get properly acquainted with the case facts. The lawyers are Henri Thulliez and William Bourdon of the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, a public-spirited group of lawyers that offers pro-bono defense services to whistleblowers as strategically litigate and advocate on their behalf where their disclosures are in the public interest.

President of the Norbert Zongo Unit for Investigative Journalism (Cellule Norbert Zongo pour le Journalisme d’Investigation, CENOZO) and a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Moussa Aksar has been charged with defamation as part of an international investigation into an embezzlement case.

In his investigative piece published in September 2020, the journalist reported on the alleged embezzlement of tens of millions of euros by senior army officials and people close to the government through over-invoicing in the purchase of military equipment, delivery of defective weapons and/or unfulfilled contracts.

After receiving several death threats in the course of his investigation, Aksar was eventually sued for defamation by a Belgian-based Niger national who was named as an accomplice in the alleged embezzlement.

The journalist denounces what he says is an attempt by his detractors to silence him and discredit the investigation which was jointly conducted in nearly 90 countries with the support of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), an independent network of journalists based in Washington, D.C., and the Norbert Zongo Unit for Investigative Journalism (Cellule Norbert Zongo pour le Journalisme d’Investigation, CENOZO).

“This is a judicial and economic harassment. My newspaper has been taken over by the authorities and given another name. I am no longer allowed to advertise, I am forced to resort to online writing,” Aksar told the MFWA.

The journalist remains undeterred despite the oppression and insecurity he faces.  He speaks of a passion and commitment to accountability and the public interest.

“We are here for public interest. That’s what motivates me. I think about the next generation, if I quit, the young ones who will come after me would not want to practice investigative journalism anymore,” he told the MFWA.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) joins human rights and press freedom organisations in expressing our unwavering support for Moussa Aksar. We strongly condemn the multiple harassments of the investigative journalist by the Nigerien authorities, and call on the Nigerien judiciary to ensure that justice is done. We also urge the Nigerien authorities to guarantee press freedom and freedom of expression, which are fundamental rights.

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