Journalist Detained over Facebook in Niger

The authorities in Niger have detained journalist Samira Sabou in connection with her Facebook publication alleging corruption in the procurement of equipment for Niger’s military.

The journalist was put before a high court in Niamey, after she honoured a summon by the dean of investigating magistrates, Maman Sayabou Issa of the said court. She was remanded in prison after being charged with defamation in connection with the said Facebook post.

Sabou’s interrogation and subsequent detention followed a defamation complaint filed by Sani Issoufou Mahamadou, a presidential aide and son of President Mahamadou Issifou in relation to the story.

In the story posted on May 26, 2020, the journalist, who manages the news website Mides-Niger, linked Sani Issifou to the scandal allegedly involving over-invoicing of materials procured by the Ministry of Defense.

The journalist was charged under Niger’s 2019 cyber-crime law and faces up to three years in prison, possibly with a fine, if found guilty. The law punishes with a prison term any publication on social media networks or by digital means considered defamatory or liable to disturb public order.

This is the second time in three months that a journalist has been detained after being charged under the cyber-crime law. On March 5, a freelance journalist, Kaka Touda Mamane Goni, was detained after he published that, a case of corona virus infection has been reported at Niger’s biggest health facility. On March 25, a court in Niamey handed Touda a three- month suspended sentence “for publishing false news on COVID-19.”

Sabou is not an ordinary individual using the internet to undermine public order or national security which is the primary focus of the cyber-crime law. She is a journalist who published a journalistic story and must, therefore, be subject to Niger’s Press Freedom Law No 035 of June 4 2010.  Article 67 of this law states clearly that “In matters of press offenses, preventive detention is prohibited. A judge cannot issue a detention or arrest warrant.”

The MFWA therefore condemns the detention of the journalist and demands her immediate release. The prosecution of journalists for their online publications defeats the purpose of the decriminalization of libel in Niger.

Sabou, a serial critic of the government, is a popular journalist and social media activist with over 60,000 followers on Facebook. In 2017, she was sacked by the state publishing house, ONEP, publishers of Le Sahel and Le Sahel Dimanche newspapers, after she posted a Facebook picture of herself mimicking a pose by President Mahamadou Issoufou.  The said pose by the president had already been widely publicised.

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