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"Aïr Info" correspondent arrested and placed in custody in Agadez with his editor

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Daouda Yacouba of the privately-owned fortnightly "Aïr Info", who was arrested on 25 October 2007 at his home in the northern town of Ingall and was taken to the provincial capital of Agadez. There he was placed in a cell with the newspaper's editor, Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, who was arrested on 9 October. A third Niger journalist, Moussa Kaka, has been held in Niamey since 20 September.

"This rash series of arrests must be brought to an end in order to stop the progressive collapse of the rule of law in Niger," the press freedom organisation said. "Two journalists are now being held in Agadez in an utterly illegal manner and in violation of the government's democratic undertakings. Yacouba, Diallo and Kaka must all be released at once."

Yacouba, who is the Agadez-based "Aïr Info"'s Ingall correspondent and helps Diallo run the newspaper, spoke to Reporters Without Borders from his place of detention, describing how gendarmes arrested him at his Ingall home at 4:00 p.m. (local time), on 25 October, and took him in a 4WD vehicle to the gendarmerie headquarters in Agadez and questioned him about his articles and his alleged links with the Tuareg rebels of the Niger People's Movement for Justice (MNJ). He was then put in the same cell as Diallo.

"I keep explaining to the gendarmes that all I did was my work as a journalist and that their accusations are baseless," Yacouba told Reporters Without Borders.

It was Yacouba who, in Diallo's absence, took charge of publishing the newspaper's latest issue on 24 October, the day before he was arrested. Diallo told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that the two were now "detained together," were being "treated well" and were allowed to receive visits.

"I am now in my 16th day in police custody and I am still being interrogated about absurd accusations," Diallo said. "One might think that a plot had been hatched against our newspaper." Diallo was arrested in Niamey airport at around 11:00 p.m. (local time) on 9 October, as he was about to board an Air France flight to France at the invitation of the government of the French department of Côtes d'Armor.

Diallo's arrest came three weeks after that of Kaka, the manager of Niamey-based Radio Saraouniya and Niger correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Reporters Without Borders, who faces a possible life sentence on charges of "complicity in a conspiracy against the authority of the state."

The authorities say they tapped Kaka's phone but they have produced no credible evidence of his alleged complicity with the MNJ. There have been frequent armed clashes between the MNJ and government troops in the north of the country since February, and Kaka interviewed one of the MNJ's leaders several times for RFI (see IFEX alerts of 28, 27 and 21 September and 20 July 2007)

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