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09NIAMEY793 2009-10-01 16:05:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Niamey
Cable title:  

Journalist Freed After Retraction

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1. Government of Niger officials dropped charges and freed Director
of the weekly private newspaper "Le Temoin," Ibrahim Soumana Gaoh,
on September 29. Gaoh, arrested on September 20 on charges of
defamation against the Minister of Communications and Government
Spokesperson Mohamed Ben Omar (reftel), gained release after his
newspaper ran a full retraction in its September 28 edition. Post's
media contacts told us that this was the result of mediation efforts
between the two parties by mutual associates, who got Minister Ben
Omar to agree not to press charges if Gaoh printed a retraction.

...After Issuing an Apology


2. The retraction, which began on the front page below the fold and
continued inside, apologized for the false accusation linking
Minister Ben Omar to a financial scandal at the telecommunications
parastatal SONITEL. Le Temoin wrote that its source was unreliable,
and that a subsequent journalistic investigation showed that police
had never questioned Minister Ben Omar regarding the matter.
Article 6-12 of the Penal Code stipulates that the President of the
country must grant authorization before a Cabinet member can be
summoned for questioning, and according to the article, none was
issued. The article pointed out that Minister Ben Omar had called
for an audit of SONITEL in 2008, and based on the results, had
revoked the license of the Chinese and Libyan shareholders in
February 2009.



3. PD contacts have told the PAO that without a settlement, Gaoh
almost certainly faced jail time. It is difficult to ascertain, in
a media environment where stories are often run without
verification, whether the retraction was motivated by the threat of
sentencing or by facts that came to light after publication. Two
things are clear, however, after the dramatic front page retraction:
the credibility of Le Temoin with the public has been damaged, and
private journalists are even more likely to self-censor articles
critical of the government. Post will continue to press for both
media professionalism and freedom. End comment.