Event Details

02 Jan

When

02 Jan 2022

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The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) is shocked by the Nigerien public prosecution’s decision to demand a jail term in defamation charges pursued against Samira Sabou and Moussa Aksar at the latest hearing held on 27 December, 2021.

The request for a jail term came after Chief Prosecutor, Mr Chaibou Moussa, unequivocally undertook to drop charges against the two journalists during two meetings held with lawyers from the l’Office Central de Répression du Trafic Illicite des Stupéfiants (OCRTIS) and the GI-TOC in Niamey on 15 and 16 December.

In those meetings OCRTIS also undertook to withdraw the complaint that triggered the charges as part of the agreement with the GI-TOC. While OCRTIS did in fact honor its commitment at the 27 December hearing, the public prosecution did not. Instead of following through on its undertaking, the prosecution asked for a jail term. The presiding judge is now expected to deliver a judgment tomorrow 3 January, 2022.

Background

Ms Sabou, investigative journalist and blogger, and Mr Aksar, director of the media site “L’Événement Niger”, on 09 September were charged in court under Niger’s draconian cyber criminality law which provides for imprisonment of up to three years in respect to direct or indirect defamation. The two have been prosecuted following a complaint by OCRTIS, due to their circulation on social media of an article issued by the GI-TOC.

The article in question, ‘Strange Days for Hashish Trafficking in Niger’, was published by the GI-TOC on 11 May 2021 and reported on the trafficking of Lebanese cannabis resin through West Africa to North Africa, and the seizure by Nigerien authorities of a large shipment on 02 March. The GI-TOC reported information from multiple sources concerning the subsequent reacquisition of part of the shipment by traffickers, who later moved the drugs to Libya and Egypt. After the article was published, OCRTIS requested a right of reply, which was posted directly and incorporated into the article by the GI-TOC.

In December, following months of negotiations, the GI-TOC had reached an agreement to cooperate with OCRTIS in joint initiatives to be organized in Niamey, and acknowledged this agreement and the agency’s decision to withdraw its complaint in a statement published on (read statement here).

At no point did the GI-TOC retract or withdraw any of the claims in the article, or indeed the article itself, which is still published on its website. The GI-TOC continues to stand by the full contents of its report, which is based on triangulated source information.

Appeal to the President

The GI-TOC’s article was never meant as an attack Nigerien state, OCRTIS or the Office of the President, a claim which has been used by the prosecution to justify the use of the cybercriminal law. On the contrary, the article offers important visibility on evolving drug trafficking challenges within the Sahel, essential for the advancement of efforts to address trafficking and the harm posed by it to nations and citizens within the sub-region.

The targeting of two prominent Nigerien investigative journalists for merely sharing the GI-TOC’s article on social media is a craven response intended to silence legitimate questioning and debate centered on drug trafficking and its corruptive power. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Niger, on the contrary, numerous countries targeted by transnational criminal networks have fallen victim to this corruptive power.

However, Niger is one of only a few states that has responded to this challenge by choosing to target human rights defenders, journalists and civic activists for their efforts to understand the challenge posed by transnational organized crime and their fight to improve rule of law and anti-corruption practices.

This is not the first time Nigerien authorities resorted to intimidation when faced with reports which they do not like. Multiple Nigerien investigative journalists and researchers have suffered from this, including Ms Sabou and Mr Aksar in previous cases instituted against them. Instead of addressing the core matter raised by the article, by launching an independent investigation, Nigerien authorities are seeking yet again to intimidate, by leveraging the arbitrary powers afforded by the cyber criminality law.

Against this background, the GI-TOC calls on President Mohamed Bazoum to use all legal means at his disposal to end immediately the injustice perpetrated on Samira Sabou and Moussa Aksar.

The GI-TOC will not be intimidated and stands in solidarity with Ms Sabou and Mr Aksar, brave local journalists who face sanction for fulfilling their responsibility to ask difficult questions and sustain important debate. The GI-TOC will vigorously fight by their side.