Two journalists in Niger have regained their freedom after 12 days in police custody. On June 16, 2016, Ali Soumana and Moussa Dodo, the founder and the Managing Editor respectively of Le Courrier newspaper, were released provisionally by a High Court in Niamey with three months suspended sentences each.
The two were arrested and detained on June 4, 2016 following publications in their newspaper on May 19 and June 2, 2016 about a public service recruitment scandal. The publication had cited the First Lady, the Minister for Petroleum, the President of the Constitutional Court and the Armed Forces Chief of Staff among top officials who allegedly requested favours for certain candidates in public service entrance examinations.
A third person, Idrissa Maiga, who owns the printing house that prints Le Courrier newspaper, was also arrested on June 6, 2016.
On June 8, 2016, the court heard the three and subsequently granted the police a warrant to continue to detain Soumana and Dodo, while releasing Maiga provisionally.
On June 10, 2016, the state prosecutor requested a one year prison sentence each for Ali and Moussa who had appeared in a High Court in Niamey, alongside Idrissa on a charge of publishing classified document obtained through a search warrant.
The journalists argued that the document they published was public record because it had been submitted as evidence during the trial of some public servants implicated in the scandal.
The final ruling on June 16, 2016 which saw the journalists regain their freedom is a welcome development. Nonetheless, the action by the police and judicial authorities in Niger is regrettable, given that the country’s laws do not allow the criminal prosecution of press offenses.
The MFWA therefore calls on the judiciary in Niger to uphold the country’s constitution which frowns on criminal prosecution of press offenses.