For the second time in a little over two weeks, Niger’s journalists’ union, Maison de la Presse, has been constrained to express concern about the press freedom environment in the Sahelian country following the coup d’état of July 26, 2023.
In the face of threats and assaults against journalists by political party zealots and invasion of media houses by soldiers following the coup, the group issued a statement condemning the siege against the media in Niger.
“The Board of Directors of the Maison de la Presse is worried, with the current sociopolitical context, about the attempts to undermine press freedom and the safety of journalists,” the association wrote in a statement dated July 28, 2023.
Signed by its President, Harouna Ibrahim, the statement denounced “the takeover of power by force and the reversal of democratic gains made at great cost by the valiant people of Niger.”
On the same day this statement was released, three hooded individuals accosted an editor in his neighbourhood and threatened to kidnap him. Maman Hassane, editor of Le Témoin de l’Histoire news magazine, told the MFWA in a telephone conversation that he was shocked by how much his antagonists knew him – they called him by his name and detailed his residential address to him, before warning that they would come after him. Hassane said he did not report the matter to the police because the masked men might have been police or military officers themselves. The journalist said he abandoned home and stayed in a rented accommodation for six days, and has since been moving from place to place. “The psychological effect has disrupted my work,” he said.
With the onslaught of attacks showing no signs of abating, Maison de la Presse has come out again with a longer, much stronger statement, reiterating its concern about the “extremely difficult environment for the practice of journalism.”
Issued on August 13, 2023, the second statement said both local journalists and foreign correspondents were being subjected to pressure, threats and intimidation. It said the climate of insecurity is unfortunately being fueled by some Nigerien activists who are urging the CNSP junta to clamp down on the media.
“The Office of the Board of Directors of the Maison de la Presse is particularly concerned about the escalation of all these restrictions that weighing heavily on media professionals today, preventing them from freely reporting on issues related to the current national political situation, in violation of texts guaranteeing freedom of press freedom and freedom of expression in Niger,” the communique said.
The statement concluded with a reminder to the CNSP of its responsibility to protect media professionals at all times and, a warning that the journalists association will exercise its right to seek legal redress for any further attacks on press freedom. The indefatigable Ibrahim Harouna has meanwhile disclosed in an interview with RFI that soldiers have been threatening journalists because of their publications.
“We even have some [journalists] who were called and threatened by soldiers because they published documents which that they don’t like.”
The intimidating calls from soldiers was confirmed by blogger and journalist Samira Sabou. On August 4, 2023, she said, a soldier called her on phone and questioned her for sharing the message of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. Sabou added that she has decided to suspend all her publications as she considered the soldier’s action as a “denial of the right to practice ethically.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has also documented a number of press freedom violations since the July 26, 2023 coup d’état.
On the day of the coup, soldiers invaded at least five media houses and lingered for hours before leaving their premises. Though not violent, the invasion was believed to have been intended to intimidate the media from doing any negative broadcasts about the coup. The affected media houses included Bonferey TV, Niger 24, Radio Anfani, Radio-Television Ténéré and Dounia TV.
On August 3, 2023, exactly a week after the coup, the junta suspended two French media channels, France 24 and RFI from broadcasting in the country. Consequently, access to the two channels which are subsidiaries of the France-owned France Medias Monde, were blocked.
On July 30, 2023, fanatics supporting the coup heckled and threatened Anne-Fleur Lespiaut, a reporter for the French channel TV5 Monde and Stanislas Poyet, a correspondent for Le Figaro, also a French newspaper. The two received the threat while covering a procession in support of the new military leaders.
The MFWA is equally concerned about the toxic environment that the media in Niger is operating in. We stand firmly with the media fraternity in Niger in these trying times and deplore the threats and intimidations from the military and their civilian backers. We also call on the authorities to lift the suspension on the two French channels and publicly call for an end to the anti-media frenzy.