More than 100 journalists and members of Nigerien civil society have demonstrated in Niger's capital Niamey. They say the government is punishing independent journalists for reporting on an on-going rebellion. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

This is the first time journalists have publicly demonstrated since Niger's government introduced democratic changes almost 20 years ago.

Reached during the march, organizer Boubacar Diallo, president of Niger's Association of Independent Newspaper Editors, told VOA the marchers are denouncing arbitrary arrests and detentions of reporters covering the rebellion.

Diallo says the government is censoring the private media. 

Months ago, the government press regulatory agency temporarily shut down two private news outlets it considers pro-rebellion.

The government has threatened further closures if journalists produce reports that, according to officials, inflame tensions or spread hatred.

But Diallo says the standard is not the same for the state media. He says last week, a government television station twice broadcast comments from a civil society leader who said ethnic Tuareg rebels could be exterminated in 48 hours. Diallo calls the broadcast irresponsible hate journalism.

Mamane Mamadou, a member of the government's press regulatory agency, says debates are allowed.

But he says reporters should not take advantage of press freedom to hide crimes against the state.

Mamadou says some of the reporting on the rebels by independent journalists could endanger public safety and fuel more violence.

A month ago, police detained independent journalist Moussa Kaka, accusing him of colluding with the rebels.

Also, police arrested a second journalist, Ibrahim Manzo Diallo 11 days ago. He ran the only newspaper in the region where the rebellion is taking place.

Diallo's family says police have accused him of collaborating with Kaka, a correspondent for Radio France International.

RFI has condemned Kaka's arrest, and says Diallo is not one of its employees. 

Ethnic Tuareg nomads re-launched attacks against government forces earlier this year in Niger's uranium-rich north. Dozens of government troops have been killed in the fighting. 

President Mamadou Tandja dismisses the fighters as bandits, and does not acknowledge their political demands for more rights or uranium profits.