The Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN welcomes the release of Mamane Abou and Oumarou Keita, respectively managing editor and editor of the weekly Le Républicain, who, PEN has recently learned, were released following their appeal hearing on 27 November 2006.
The two journalists, who were charged with “publishing false information” and “defaming the state of Niger” on 1 September, initially received a sentence of 18 months inprisonment and were ordered to pay five million CFA francs (7,600 euros) in damages and a fine of 300,000 CFA francs (450 euros). This was considered too harsh, however, and amended to a nine month prison sentence (six of which were to be suspended); because the journalists had served nearly four months in prison they were released at the end of the hearing.
The arrest of Mamane Abou and Oumarou Keita followed an article published in July by Le Républicain which suggested that the government’s strengthening of diplomatic relations with Iran and Venezuela was happening at the expense of its relations with western countries. Prime Minister Hama Amadou, who was accused in the article of “wooing the Iranians”, allegedly lodged a complaint against the two journalists, which resulted in their arrest.
Mamane Abou has been arrested several times following the publication of articles in his newspaper. He was sentenced to six months in prison in November 2004 for libel, but was released on probation in January 2005.
A final verdict on the case is still pending, but human rights organisations, including Reporters Sans Frontières, have welcomed the news: “The release of our colleagues is good news for press freedom in Niger. We hope that this case is now definitely finished with and that the government of Niger will take the opportunity to finally reform the law, so that more harmonious relations can be established between the press and the authorities” RSF said.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/nigerlerpublicainjournalistsre/