Niger Reinstates Prison Sentences For Journalists For Defamation, Insult

On June 7, Niger's head of state Abdourahamane Tchiani, seen here declaring himself the country's leader after a July 2023 coup, reintroduced prison sentences and fines for defamation and insult via electronic means of communication, news reports said.


“The changes to Niger's cybercrime law are a blow to the media community and a very disappointing step backwards for freedom of expression.”

Nigerien authorities must decriminalise defamation and ensure that the country's cybercrime law does not unduly restrict the work of the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday.

Abdourahamane Tchiani, who overthrew the democratically elected president in July 2023, reintroduced prison sentences of one to three years and a fine of up to 5 million CFA francs ($8,177) for defamation and insult via electronic means of communication, according to news reports.

A jail term of two to five years and a fine of up to 5 million CFA francs ($8,177) were also set for the dissemination of “data likely to disturb public order or undermine human dignity,” even if such information is true, according to CPJ's review of a copy of the law.

“The changes to Niger's cybercrime law are a blow to the media community and a very disappointing step backwards for freedom of expression,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator, Muthoki Mumo, in Nairobi. “It is not too late to change course by reforming the law to ensure that it cannot be used to stifle journalism.”

Previously, the crimes of defamation and insult were punishable with fines of up to 10 million CFA francs (US$16,312), while dissemination of data likely to disturb public order carried a penalty of six months to three years imprisonment.

The government abolished criminal penalties for defamation and insult in 2022 to bring the 2019 cybercrime law into line with the 2010 press freedom law.

On 12 June, Niger's Minister of Justice and Human Rights Alio Daouda said in a statement that the 2022 amendments were made “despite the opposition of the large majority of Nigeriens.” He said that decriminalisation of the offences had led to a “proliferation of defamatory and insulting remarks on social networks and the dissemination of data likely to disturb public order or undermine human dignity” despite authorities' calls for restraint.

“Firm instructions have been given to the public prosecutors to prosecute without weakness or complacency” anyone who commits these offences, he said.

CPJ and other press freedom groups have raised concerns about journalists' safety in the country since the 2023 military coup.

This April, Idrissa Maïga, editor of the privately owned L'Enquêteur newspaper, was arrested and remains behind bars on charges of undermining national defence. If convicted, he could face between five and 10 years in prison.

Several Nigerien journalists were imprisoned or fined over their reporting prior to decriminalisation in 2022.

CPJ's calls to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to request comment went unanswere

Last updated on July 15th, 2024 at 11:35 pm

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