The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Wednesday, 10 September 2008, urged the Communication Minister of Niger, Mohamed Ben Omar, to stop his crackdown on the Press House, an independent media support group, after he threatened to dissolve its board and all the member associations.
"Minister Ben Omar's comments represent a serious abuse of power and reflect his determination to silence any independent voice that can defend journalists and media workers in Niger," said Gabriel Baglo, director of the IFJ Africa office. "We urge the Minister to put an end to this crackdown which only worsens the relations between the government and the press."
On Thursday, 4 September 2008, Ben Omar, the Minister of Communication and government spokesman, said on national television that soon he will write to the Interior Minister urging him to dissolve “the board [of the Press House], dissolve all the associations that are members of the board of the Press House and we will do another election.”
The Minister added, “Later we will have a General Assembly to reopen the press house.” He also said that only journalists and not journalist organisations should be members of the press house.
“The Minister clearly wants to control the Press House,” said Gabriel Baglo. “But the Press House is an independent organisation with its own statutes and it is unacceptable for a Minister to decide who should be a member.”
During a press conference on Saturday, the chairman of the Press House, Boubacar Diallo, said that he met Ben Omar on 19 July 2008, days after the government seized the Press House building in early July. The Minister claimed that the government said the seizure was due to “interference of foreign NGOs” and the need for the government to have two representatives on the Press House's board.
Diallo said that at a board meeting and an extraordinary General Assembly of the 14 member organisations, the Press House membership unanimously rejected the Minister's propositions. They informed the Minister of their decision on 11 August 2008.
The IFJ is concerned that this crackdown has come as attacks and prosecution of the media in the country appear to be rising. Recent cases include the arrest and jail for nearly one year of journalist, Moussa Kaka on suspicion of aiding the rebels.
The director of the private newspaper Le Canard Déchaîné, Abdoulaye Tiémogo, fled the country last month over alleged threats on his life after his paper published a series of articles where he asked the president not to change the constitution to seek another term. Tiémogo told the IFJ that the police also searched his house and his office in an attempt to track him down.
On 19 August 2008, the High Council of Communication of Niger, the government's media regulatory body, suspended for one month Radio and Television Dounia for “not respecting the terms of reference.” According to Radio and Television Dounia management, the regulatory body refused to give any clarification on its reasons for suspending the station.
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