A journalist in Niger has been sentenced to six months in prison after writing an article in which he accused senior officials of misappropriating state funds.

The owner and editor of the independent daily newspaper La Republican, Mamane Abou, wrote the offending article in July, accusing the government of awarding contracts without allowing competitive bidding.

Mr. Abou published documents he said came from the Public Treasury, which he said proved the government of Niger was making illegal payments totaling $7 million to suppliers who have close links to Prime Minister Hama Amadou.

The government says the contracts were legal under a presidential decree.

Mr. Abou was convicted of libel, without being present at his trial. His lawyers were not allowed to attend either.

The government has also accused Mr. Abou of theft and possession of confidential government documents, prompting fears among local journalists that he could be tried a second time.

International journalism associations have condemned Mr. Abou's trial and sentencing, including the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York and the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders.

They say Mr. Abou's arrest is a reflection of the deteriorating state of press freedom in Niger.

In October, the director of another weekly newspaper was given a one-year suspended sentence after he quoted a businessman who said the government of Niger was awarding too many contracts to his rivals in the east of the country.

Reporters have also been targeted elsewhere in Africa in recent weeks, including the killing of a reporter in Abidjan by a police officer. In addition, journalists have been detained in Equatorial Guinea and Mali, and a French reporter was deported from Senegal.