Two journalists arrested, one flees over threats as crackdown continues

The Nigerien authorities have arrested and detained two journalists in the latest assault on press freedom.

On April 13, 2024, a journalist with Radio Anfani, Ousmane Mamane Toudou was arrested for calling for the defence of democracy. The reason for his arrest is not clear, however, it is believed to be in connection with his critical posture. For instance, in the aftermath of the coup d’état of July 26, 2023, he published an article in which he gave his assessment of the breakdown of the democratic order.

Toudou is currently being held on the premises of the national gendarmerie.

In another incident, the police arrested the editor of the L’Enquêteur newspaper, Soumana Idrissa Maïga, on April 25, 2024 over an article in his newspaper alleging that bugging devices have been installed on public buildings by Russian agents.

The French Newspaper Le Figaro first made the allegation, with L’Enquêteur raising questions about the consequences of such alleged tapping devices in government buildings.

Four days after his arrest by police officers, Maïga was transferred to Niamey’s main prison pending investigation on charges of undermining state security. Authorities are yet to set a trial date. According to judicial authorities, Maïga’s detention is on the ground that the facts are serious enough and require him to remain in prison for further investigations.

Maïga’s lawyer, Ousmane Ben Kafougou, has raised concerns over an apparent disregard for press laws in his case.

According to a journalist and media expert who chose to remain anonymous, in this particular case, rather than prosecuting journalists under the press code, the plaintiffs’ lawyers always seek to apply the heaviest sentence by using the criminal code. This way, they are sure to dissuade any other journalist or critical voice who might want to take the same route.

Reports from journalists and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International indicate that another journalist, Tchima Illa Issoufou, a correspondent for BBC international radio reporting in Hausa, has faced threats over her recent reports on the security situation in the Tillabéri region. The plain and unflattering reports have drawn the anger of the junta and its supporters. The journalist has come under threats amid accusations of attempting to destabilise Niger under the influenced of foreign entities. Issoufou has left the country over security concerns.

In a related incident, the authorities arrested a civil society activist Ali Tera, who was interviewed by Issoufou in one of her reports. Terra was arrested on April 26, 2024 and transferred to Niamey civil prison on April 29.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the arrest of journalists Ousmane Mamane Toudou and Soumana Idrissa Maiga, and calls for their immediate release. We also call for an end to the threats against Tchima Illa Issoufou, and urge the Nigerien authorities to investigate and take action on the threats proffered against her.

These incidents point to a troubling pattern of censorship targeting critical media figures. Press freedom is a fundamental right and no justification can be given for arresting journalists for sharing their opinion or doing their job. Authorities must allow journalists to do their job without fear of reprisals, especially when they report on issues of public interest.

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