Niger Alert: Journalists fined for libel

On January 21, 2015, the Niamey Magistrate’s Court ordered Souleymane Salha and Issoufou Oumarou Alzouma, staff of Le Courrier, an independent weekly newspaper, to pay damages of 10.5 million CFA francs (about US$18,500) to Ali Mariama El Ibrahim, the Minister of Basic Education, Literacy and the Promotion of Indigenous Languages.

The MFWA’s correspondent in Niger reported that the lawsuit was a result of a Le Courrier publication on August 7, 2014. The article, titled “The Grand Scam”, accused the minister of diverting a contract for the supply of school books valuing more than 500 million CFA francs (about US$ 881,484)

According to the correspondent, as a result of the publication, the minister was summoned by the country’s legislative body, Assemblée Nationale, on November 5, 2014 to respond to a motion tabled by Mossi Boubacar, a Member of Parliament of the opposition Lumana party.

She subsequently filed a libel suit against Salha, the Managing Editor of the newspaper, and Alzouma, a reporter. The journalists were found guilty of libel and were mandated by the court to jointly pay 10.5 million West African CFA Francs.

Salha told the MFWA correspondent that they will appeal the verdict.

In November 2011, the president of Niger, Issoufou Mahamadou, became the first head of state to endorse the Table de Montagne Declaration, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws across Africa. However, journalists continue to face arrests, which they often do not report for fear of victimization.

Fines such as this one are huge and tend to force the media into self-censorship, which has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. The MFWA urges Nigeriens to consider means of redress such as l’Observatoire Indépendant des Médias pour l’Ethique et la Déontologie (ONIMED), which is a peer court that resolves media-related offences. The MFWA also calls on President Mahamadou, who prioritized press freedom in 2011, to end the harassment of journalists by state agents.

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