Three journalists arrested

Map of Niger
Une bonne partie du territoire nigerien se trouve en zone sahélienne, une région aride aux confints du désert du Sahara (IRIN )

Police authorities in Niger's southern town of Zinder, 890 km from the capital, Niamey, arrested three journalists of the independent ANFANI FM radio station, the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) said in a statement on Thursday.

The three, Amadou Mamoudou, Harouna Mato and the director of the station, Ismael Moutari were arrested on the orders of Abba Malam Boukar, the commissioner of Zinder, who accused them of broadcasting information on a conflict between farmers and cattle breeders in the area which resulted in some deaths.

Mamoudou and Mato were reportedly released later, but police were still detaining Moutari maintaining that he should disclose the source of the information.

"The Media Foundation of West Africa is deeply troubled by the incessant wave of arrests and intimidations of journalists in Niger," MFWA said.

For the past two months, the Foundation had recorded over five attacks on the media in Niger ranging from closure orders to arrests and detentions.

"The practice does not only impede the function of the media but denies the people of Niger the right to free expression and undermines democracy," MFWA said.

"We urge the government of Prime Minister Hama Amadou to release Mr Moutari the director of ANFANI FM and allow the media to freely inform the people of Niger on issues affecting their existence as a nation."

Lately, the government of Niger has seemingly launched a crackdown on independent newspapers and radio stations, prompting cries of alarm from international media watchdog organisations.

Between September and October some 15 private radio stations had been closed and editors of two weekly newspapers arrested.

The Committee on the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) on Tuesday expressed concern at "the deteriorating state of press freedom in Niger," after a six-month jail sentence was passed on Mamane Abou, the editor of the independent weekly paper Le Republicaine.

It noted that last month Ibrahim Souley, director of the weekly newspaper L'Enqueteur had been given a one-year suspended prison sentence after running an article which quoted a businessman from eastern Niger as saying the government was awarding too many contracts to his rivals from the east.

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said it was surprised by the situation in Niger, which it said had been considered a democratic country and where freedom of expression seemed to relatively flourish.

"We don't understand what's going on in Niger," Jean-Francois Julliard, head of Africa Desk told IRIN. "It seems like there is a change of heart and the authorities are becoming intolerant and not willing to accommodate criticisms," he said.

Julliard said the fact that any body in authority could order for the arrest of a journalist or closure of a station was worrying. "We hope that the authorities will do something to stop this crackdown."

"We are waiting and hoping that the President [Mamadou Tandja] who has always said he supported press freedom would come up with a public statement on what is going on," he added.

Niger, a vast desert state is one of Africa's poorest countries. Although ethnic tensions simmer just below the surface, it has been a functioning democracy since President Tandja came to power in elections four years ago that were widely acclaimed as free and fair.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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