Mamane Abou, managing editor of the independent Le Républican weekly newspaper has been sentenced to six months in prison on a charge of criminal libel. The court also imposed two separate fines of CFA300,000 francs (about US$559) for cost and CFA10 million francs (US$18,622) in damages on the journalist.
Neither the journalist nor his lawyer, Souley Oumarou, was present at the closed, secret trial on November 7, 2003. The Niamey regional tribunal convicted Mamane Abou for libel, following a suit filed by Prime Minister Hama Amadou and Finance Minister Ali Badjo Gamatie.
Mamane Abou was arrested at his office in the morning of November 5, and detained at the Niamey central prison. He was charged with “conspiring with an employee to steal, and for receipt of [stolen] confidential documents.”
The arrest was in connection with an article published in the Issue No. 582 of the July 17 – 23 edition of the Le Republican newspaper. The article reported that the government had made irregular expenses to the tune of CFA4 billion francs, most of which are alleged to have gone to businessmen close to the Prime Minister. The newspaper also published a number of documents, allegedly leaked from the Public Treasury, to corroborate the claims made in the article.
The publication sparked off series of press conferences from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, who threatened that the “government would take legal action” against the Le Républican managing editor. Abou is also the owner of the Nouvelle Imprimerie du Niger (NIN), the biggest printing house in the country. For many years, he was the president of the Association of Independent Media Publishers in Niger (ANEPI).
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) notes the regrettable failure of the authorities in Niger to grant Abou the opportunity to respond to the charges against him – a basic condition in any fair trial. We call on the government of President Mamadou Tandja to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Mamane Abou from prison; and to guarantee the legitimate right of journalists in the country to receive and share information on issues of public interest.