Niger UPDATE: Human rights advocate sentenced to 12 months

The Niamey Regional Court, on September 19, 2002, sentenced Elhadji Bagnou Bonkoukou, the 75-year-old president of the Niger Human Rights League (LNDH), to 12 months in prison. He was convicted for allegedly disseminating “false news.”

Elhadji Bonkoukou was arrested on August 14, 2002 by the Niamey Criminal Investigation Department for statements he had made on local radio stations and on the BBC, in which he cast doubts on the official verdict of the death tolls in two separate clashes at Diffa and Niamey, between army mutineers and forces loyal to the government. The Minister of National Defence had given an official casualty figure of two deaths (one from the mutineers and one of the loyal forces) and 72 unaccounted for. Another 217 of the mutineers were said to have been arrested.

The LNDH President, however, maintained that given the level of violence in the two clashes, the civilian and army casualties were probably higher, and called for an independent inquiry into the events. Following those statements, he was detained for close to one month, before being charged to trial on September 5.

This rather harsh sentence on Elhadji comes in spite of ongoing mediation efforts by the president of the Interafrican Human Rights Union (UIDH) and Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) board member, Halidou Ouédraogo, to secure his release.

The MFWA is appalled by the demonstrated intolerance of free expression by Prime Minister Hama Amadou’s government. Police authorities in Niamey on May 18 this year arrested and detained Sanoussi Tambari Jackcou, publisher of the weekly La Roue de l’Histoire newspaper and Abdoulaye Tiemogo of radio Tambara FM, at the instance of the Prime Minister, for making “unethical remarks that could disturb public order”. Again, on June 28, 2002, the Niamey Regional Court sentenced the managing editor of the independent Le Canard Dechaine newspaper, Abdoulaye Tiémogo, to eight months imprisonment for the offence of “insult and libel” against the Prime Minister. In addition, he was slapped with a fine of CFA50,000 francs and also ordered to pay one million CFA francs in damages to the Prime Minister.

The MFWA calls for the unconditional release of Elhadji Banou Bonkoukou and urges the government to stop the repressive use of the law courts to silence critical voices in the country. The MFWA also requests you to kindly send a protest against the imprisonment of the human rights defender.

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