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Editor, reporter held in defamation case

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests of Moussa Aksar, the editor-in-chief of the privately-owned weekly "L'Evénement", and one of his journalists, Sani Aboubacar, on 12 November 2008 on a charge of libelling the head of the state power company. Their arrests came a day after another newspaper editor got a three-month suspended sentence after 12 days in pre-trial custody.

"What redress do plaintiffs get from imprisoning journalists?" Reporters Without Borders asked "And if the journalists are finally acquitted, won't innocent people have been jailed? Many questions are raised by these arrests. By not keeping its election promises to amend the law and by not giving itself appropriate tools for handling defamation cases, Niger's government has chosen to subject civil society to deliberate legal injustice and thereby undermine the country's democratic institutions."

Aksar and Aboubacar were arrested and transferred to Niamey prison when they went to the Niamey prosecutor's office in response to a warrant for their arrest issued the day before. The police had already arrested them on 3 November in connection with same case, releasing them later that day pending the case's transfer to the prosecutor's office.

The case was initially due to be tried on 13 November, but was postponed to 17 November. Meanwhile, court officials refused to consider their request for provisional release. They are charged with being "caught in the act" of libel which, according to their lawyer, Mounkaïla Yayé, means judicial authorities cannot defer trial without ruling on their provisional release request.

Their arrests were the result of a complaint by Foukori Ibrahim, head of the power company Nigelec, following articles published on 29 September referring to his "mismanagement" and to the "fraudulent hiring" of the sister of President Mamadou Tandja's chief of staff. The articles also reported that the Dutch consul, Smith Degener, had had a fatal heart attack after a discussion with Ibrahim.

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