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Niger Government Threatens Further Media Shutdowns

  • Phuong Tran

In Niger, journalists are preparing to publicly denounce what they call a government blackout on reports of a rebellion in the north. The government say reporting on the rebellion has limits and it has detained some journalists whose reporting it considers pro rebellion. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

After initially being denied permission earlier this week, Nigerien journalists have received approval to demonstrate this Saturday in Niger's capital, Niamey.

They plan to gather journalists and members of civil society to publicly protest what they call a lack of press freedom in covering an ongoing rebellion in the north.

Mamane Mamadou, a member of a governmental agency that sets rules for the press, says the sensitive nature of the rebellion requires careful and objective reporting.

Mamadou tells the VOA that journalists are free to cover all sides, but within limits.

He says press freedom exists in Niger, but the zone where fighting is taking place is under a state of alert. He says if someone has the means to speak to the rebels, and air their views, they are free do so.

But the government is accusing some journalists of colluding with the rebels.

Mamadou cites Radio Saraounia, a private Nigerien radio station run by now-detained journalist Moussa Kaka.

The station invited rebels to speak in its broadcasts. Now the government is accusing Kaka of collusion.

The government recently suspended broadcasts of Radio France International for one month. Kaka also worked there.

Officials have also shut down the Air Info newspaper for three months. The government says RFI and Air Info have not been objective in their coverage of the rebellion.

The journalists say their reports were fair and that they are victims of censorship.

Moussa Kaka and and another journalist, Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, have been detained. Kaka is being held on charges of colluding with the rebels, while Diallo has not been charged.

Rebel spokesman Mohamed Ajidal denies any ties with the journalists. The fighter says the journalists did what journalists are supposed, namely conduct interviews and check facts.

International civil society organizations and journalist associations have condemned the journalists' arrests and detentions.

In February, ethnic Tuareg fighters escalated the violence against the government with landmine attacks and hostage takings. They complain of government neglect.

President Mamadou Tandja refuses to acknowledge the fighting as a political rebellion, dismissing the armed opposition as bandits.

Rebel spokesman Ajidal says now that the month-long rebel ceasefire for the Muslim fasting holiday of Ramadan has ended, the rebels are preparing to re-launch attacks until the government recognizes their demands.

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