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JOURNALIST MOUSSA KAKA FREED

IFEX members hailed the provisional release of Moussa Kaka, a local reporter for Radio France International (RFI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who has been freed after spending more than a year in jail on charges of collaborating with rebels in northern Niger.

On 7 October, a Niger appeals court ordered Kaka's release and downgraded the charges against him. Kaka, who is also the director of the privately-owned Radio Saraounia, was arrested in September last year and charged with colluding with Tuareg rebels who have been waging a guerrilla war in Niger's uranium-producing north.

He now faces lesser charges of offences against "the integrity of national territory", which carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail. No date was set for the new trial.

"I am relieved and I want to thank all those who thought of me during this past year," he told RSF after being freed.

Kaka has consistently denied the charges against him, arguing that his contacts with the Tuareg-led rebel Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) were made in the course of his work as a journalist.

He was initially charged with "complicity in plotting against state authority", a crime which carries a possible life sentence.

RFI and some IFEX members ran high-profile campaigns urging Niger to release Kaka. An RSF petition was signed by high-profile activists, including musicians Youssou N'Dour and Tiken Jah Fakoly. On World Press Freedom Day in May, the West African Journalists' Association (WAJA) held solidarity actions across West Africa to mark Kaka's seventh month in prison. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has continually sent out updates on his case.

According to Reuters, Niger's government, which dismisses the MNJ rebels as bandits and drug-traffickers, has slapped a strict ban on foreign journalists visiting the north, where sporadic battles and ambushes since early last year have killed at least 200 rebels and 70 government soldiers. Several foreign reporters have been arrested and deported for breaking the ban.

MNJ has said it is fighting for more autonomy and a greater share of the northern region's mineral wealth for the Tuaregs and other nomadic peoples.

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28845
- Media Foundation for West Africa: http://www.mediafound.org/
- WAJA: http://www.ujaowaja.org/
- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/52tdnt
- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/4xjr7c
- IFEX Niger page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/61/
- Reuters: http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnJOE4960M7.html
(8 October 2008)

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