- Yesterday, the director of the independent radio station 'Saraounia FM' and correspondent of 'Radio France International', was arrested by agents of the Gendarmerie in the capital of Niger, Niamey. The arrest came after the station aired an interview with a rebel group, claiming responsibility for Tuesday's attacks on travellers on the trans-Sahara highway.
The Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) today informs that 'Saraounia FM' director Moussa Kaka yesterday at noon was picked up by the Nigerien Gendarmerie at the radio station and arrested. He was now being "held incommunicado," MFWA says, quoting sources in the Nigerien capital.
The security officers were also said to have searched Mr Kaka's office and home, confiscating his address books and other documents, the regional media watchdog group said, condemning the actions by the Nigerien Gendarmerie.
According to MFWA sources in Niger, Mr Kaka was arrested only after 'Saraounia FM' had broadcast a telephone interview with the head of a new rebel movement in its 11 August afternoon news bulletin. The group had claimed responsibility for armed attacks in the north of the country.
On 10 August, on the evening before the broadcast, armed men had attacked three transport buses between Agadez and Arlit, 1,100 km north of Niamey. The armed men killed three of the passengers, seriously injured 14 others and took hostage two gendarmes accompanying the transport buses.
The government of Niger only informed about the incident on state broadcasters 24 hours after it had occurred. Interior Minister Albade Abouba said in a statement that "armed bandits" had launched "a series of attacks on buses driving along the main trans-Sahara highway in northern Niger."
The Minister described the incident as robbery, not as a rebel attack. Following the statement of Minister Abouba, state media and international reporters wrote "bandit attacks on trans-Sahara highway" (UN media).
Only 'Saraounia FM' did further investigations into the case, using its contact network in northern Niger. Editor Kaka found out that there indeed was a new rebel group operating in the inaccessible Saharan north of the country, a group of armed men that have yet to describe their motives for the attack they claimed responsibility for.
The government of Niger originates from a coup-making military junta that has legitimised its grip to power by highly questionable "multi-party elections". In cases affecting national security, the junta-turned-civilians mostly stick to the methods of a military government. Free press reporting on such issues are not welcome.
The MFWA today protested the harsh methods by the Nigerien government. The foundation has sent an appeal to President Tandja Mamadou, "condemning the arbitrary arrest and detention" of Mr Kaka and the confiscation of his personal documents without a search warrant.
According to the regional press freedom body, the Nigerien government should "pursue Mr Kaka through legal channels if it can demonstrate probable cause for any offence he may have committed in the course of his journalistic investigations."
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