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Journalist faces five years in prison for "publishing stolen documents"

A man rides a motorcycle past a government building in Niamey, Niger, 20 February 2016
A man rides a motorcycle past a government building in Niamey, Niger, 20 February 2016

REUTERS/Joe Penney

This statement was originally published on on 6 July 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest judicial proceedings against Ali Soumana, a newspaper journalist who is often critical of Niger's government. He is currently facing up to five years in prison on a charge of publishing stolen documents.

The publisher of the weekly Le Courrier, Ali Soumana has been held for the past week for publishing the public prosecutor's summing-up in a five-year-old legal dispute between Niger and a Lebanese company called Africard.

He was originally charged with violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation but the charge was changed on 3 July 2017, after he had spent four days in police custody and the police had carried out a search of his home.

He is now in prison awaiting trial on a charge of obtaining a judicial document by fraudulent means, a crime punishable by up to five years in jail under article 194 of the Penal Code.

Press law violation

Niger's 2010 press law prohibits jail sentences for press offences, which are punishable only by fines. Although Soumana acted as a journalist, the new charge allows the judicial authorities to circumvent the press law and prosecute him under the penal code, whose punishments are much more severe.

RSF regards this as a blatant violation of the press law. By proceeding against Soumana in this way, the authorities are clearly trying to pressure him into revealing his sources, although article 16 of the 2010 press law guarantees the confidentiality of journalists' sources. We call on Niger's authorities to drop the charges against Le Courrier's publisher and to stop persecuting journalists who are just doing their job, which is to report what is happening.

Soumana is well known to RSF. He was previously prosecuted last year, when he was detained for ten days and was given a three-month suspended jail sentence on a charge of "divulging documents seized during a search" and trying to "discredit a judicial decision."

Niger is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index, nine places lower than in 2016.

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