The recent conviction of two investigative journalists in Niger creates a worrying precedent that threatens media freedom in the country, a prominent human rights watchdog said on Thursday.
In early January, Nigerien journalists Samira Sabou and Moussa Aksar were sentenced to one-month and two-month prison terms, respectively, for reposting the findings of a May 2021 report by the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GITOC). The report claimed that the major cannabis shipment exempted by the Niger authorities had been regained by the drug traffickers.
“The convictions of Samira Sabou and Moussa Aksar constitute an alarming setback for press freedom in Niger. It is abundantly clear that the opportunity to freely report on critical issues, is now at the mercy of national authorities,” Amnesty International West Africa Researcher Ousmane Diallo said.
Sabou and Aksar were charged with “defamation by means of electronic communication” and “disseminating data for the purpose of disturbing public order” under the provisions of the 2019 Cyber Criminality Law that is reportedly being used by authorities to crack down on the freedom of speech and “intimidate journalists.”
The convicts’ lawyer Ahmed Mamane told Amnesty that “the conviction constitutes a danger for press freedom in Niger. The 2019 Cyber Criminality Law… allows the authorities to circumvent the law decriminalizing press offenses and to prosecute journalist… when they report on contentious issues.”
Amnesty stressed that both journalists have long been targeted by the authorities. Between 2017 and 2019 Aksar was found guilty of defamation for reporting on the funds embezzlement by the defense ministry, while Sabou was detained for over a month in 2020 after a defamation complaint over the same controversy.
The May 2021 GITOC report re-posted by the convicted journalists exposed the drug trafficking situation in Niger, with information from multiple sources on the re-acquisition of the drug shipment by traffickers, later transferred to Libya and Egypt. The GITOC argued that it “continues to stand by the full contents of its report,” stressing that the article was never meant to attack the Nigerien state, on the contrary, it discovered the evolving drug trafficking challenges in the region.