New York, June 12, 2020 — Authorities in Niger should immediately release journalist Samira Ibrahim Sabou and drop all charges against her, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Authorities arrested Sabou, editor with the privately owned Niger Search news website and manager of the Mides-Niger news website, on June 10 after she responded to a court summons, according to her lawyer, Abdou Léko Aboubacar, and Sahirou Youssoufou, secretary general of the Niger Press House, a local media association, both of whom spoke to CPJ over messaging app.
The summons was issued in response to a defamation complaint filed by Sani Mahamadou Issoufou, the son and chief of staff of Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, according to Léko and Youssoufou.
The complaint stemmed from a May 26 post on Sabou’s official Facebook account that alleged a connection between “the son of the boss of the country” and an audit of the military, as discussed in a March 24 report by the Jeune Afrique news site. The post shared a screenshot of the Jeune Afrique article.
Sabou frequently posts political commentary and links to her reporting on her Facebook page, where she has more than 60,000 followers.
Authorities charged Sabou with “defamation by a means of electronic communication” under Article 29 of Niger’s cybercrime law for her post, and for a comment made on the post by another Facebook user, Léko told CPJ.
Sabou was placed in pre-trial detention in the civil prison in Niamey; if convicted, she could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to five million West African francs ($8,650), according to Léko and the cybercrime law, which CPJ reviewed.
“Authorities in Niger should immediately release Samira Ibrahim Sabou and halt their use of the country’s cybercrime law to arrest and detain journalists,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Niger’s cybercrime law is just another disappointing example of the way criminal defamation persists across the continent, in defiance of international standards and African governments’ own commitments to freedom of expression.”
CPJ called Sani Issoufou Mahamadou for comment at a phone number provided by someone following the case, but the call did not go through. CPJ could not contact him through Twitter because he did not have direct messaging enabled.
Sabou is the president of the local Association of Bloggers for Active Citizenship, previously worked with the government owned Le Sahel and privately owned l’Enquêteur newspapers, and is widely known for her writing on social media, according to Youssoufou.
Niger’s Press House issued a statement condemning Sabou’s arrest, and restating Niger’s prohibitions on preventive arrests for press violations. The statement also noted that Niger had signed the Table Mountain Declaration, a regional pact advocating for the abolition of criminal defamation laws.
CPJ could not immediately find contact information for the judge overseeing Sabou’s case.
In March, journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni was also arrested in Niamey and prosecuted under Niger’s cybercrime law for posts on social media, as CPJ documented at the time.