Nigerien journalist Samira Sabou, winner of Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2021 in the journalism category, has been handed a one-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 FCFA (around £65) for circulating an article on drugs trafficking in the country. The sentence was handed down by the courts despite her house being searched without a warrant and Sabou being questioned without a lawyer being present.
The article – Strange Days for Hashish Trafficking in Niger – reported on the trafficking of cannabis through West Africa to North Africa, and the seizure by Nigerien authorities of a large shipment, some of which later went missing.
“On 26 May 2021, I posted an article on drug trafficking in the country,” says Sabou. “The following day I was summoned by an individual who called me on the phone. He told me that he was from the anti-drug unit and that I must come immediately. He didn’t tell me why. I told him that I would first call my lawyer and I would get back to him. But I was told that if I did not show up immediately he would send agents to look for me.”
Within 30 minutes at least 10 people showed up at Sabou’s house to search it.
“After reminding them that they could not come to my home and search it without a warrant, there was a fight,” she says. “They handcuffed my husband and took his phone to prevent him from calling my lawyer. They also confiscated my phone maybe because I had posted on social media about what was happening. In the face of legal harassment against me, it has become a habit of mine to make society my witness through Facebook posts.”
“Later that day police officers from the Central Office for the Repression of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs (OCRTIS) came to take me in for questioning. They begged my husband to let me go with them, still without a warrant, and without my lawyer. And all this for a simple post on Facebook. I am neither a murderer nor a drug dealer, let alone a fugitive. I am a simple journalist!”
Sabou was taken against her will to the OCRTIS premises and interrogated. Following this, OCRTIS filed a complaint against Sabou for indirect defamation and she was summoned on 6 June to the Directorate of the Judicial Police (DPJ).
“At this stage I would like to point out that no responsible and ethical judge would agree to proceed given that the complainant (OCRTIS) had me forced from my home, without a warrant, and had questioned me without a lawyer. It is outrageous, completely senseless in a country of ‘rights’. And all this for sharing a post on Facebook!” she says.
On 9 September Sabou appeared before the Tribunal de Grande Instance Hors Classe in Niamey, where she was prosecuted for “defamation” and “diffusing information to disrupt public order” under the cyber crime law of 2019.
However on 27 December 2021, ORCTIS withdrew its complaint but her prosecution did not stop there.
“The public prosecutor’s office did not honour its part of the agreement and instead of dropping charges, asked for a conviction. On 3 January this year I was found guilty of defamation. I received a one-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 FCFA. My colleague Moussa Aksar was also found guilty, with a two-month suspended sentence and a fine of 100,000 FCFA.”
It is not the first time Sabou has had brushes with the authorities.
In June 2020, she was arrested and charged with defamation in connection with a Facebook post highlighting corruption, specifically possible overbilling by the country’s defence ministry. She spent over a month in detention before eventually being discharged and released.
Sabou says, “The most incredible thing about this affair is that we are not the only Nigerien journalists, citizens and media to have shared the article. But we are the only ones to have been punished by the justice system in such an extreme way. It is very clear that this is all part of a broader campaign of harassment against me and the work that I do, a campaign to silence me.”
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/2s9v3ko0Z_E”][vc_column_text]Samira Sabou is a Nigerien journalist, blogger and president of the Niger Bloggers for Active Citizenship Association (ABCA).
In June 2020, Sabou was arrested and charged with defamation under the 2019 cybercrime law in connection with a Facebook post highlighting corruption, specifically the possible overbilling by the defence ministry. She spent over a month in detention before eventually being discharged and released.
This year, through her work with ABCA, she is conducting training sessions on disseminating information on social media based on journalistic ethics. The aim of this training, she says, is to give bloggers the means to avoid jail time. The need for this training is a consequence of the cybercrime law, enacted in 2019, which severely restricts freedom of expression in the country.
Sabou is also active in promoting girls’ and women’s right to freedom of expression and has championed women’s leadership through her work. This year, through ABCA, she is also fighting against child marriage, which remains a serious and widespread issue in Niger.
On 27 May 2021, about 20 police officers arrived at her home and attempted to arrest Sabou without a warrant. She was interrogated, without the presence of her lawyer and released later the same day. On 9 September 2021, Samira Sabou appeared before the Tribunal de Grande Instance Hors Classe de Niamey facing charges of “defamation” and “diffusing information to disrupt public order” as defined by the cyber crime law of 2019 in reference to an article on her Facebook page. The article was published by the Global Initiative regarding the Office Central de Répression du Trafic Illicite des Stupéfiants (OCRTIS) alleged reselling of drugs it had seized from illegal trafficking. Samira Sabou was charged alongside journalist Moussa Aksar, who also shared the same article.
Although the government of Niger continues to exert pressure on Sabou, she remains an outspoken supporter of freedom of expression, and especially media freedom, in Niger. Her aim is to open her own news agency and recruit young people who want to be innovative in the field of information. [/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/n84ihJkw8R4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_images_carousel images=”117457,117451,117452,117454,117456,117458,117459,117460,117461,117462,117468,117469,117470,117471,117472,117463″ img_size=”full” speed=”3500″ autoplay=”yes”][vc_column_text]The winners of Index on Censorship’s 2021 Freedom of Expression awards have been announced at a ceremony in London hosted by actor, writer and activist Tracy-Ann Oberman.
The Freedom of Expression Awards, which were first held in 2000, celebrate individuals or groups who have had a significant impact fighting censorship anywhere in the world. Winners join Index’s Awards Fellowship programme and receive dedicated training and support. This year’s awards are particularly significant, coming as the organisation celebrates its 50th birthday.
Winners were announced in three categories – art, campaigning and journalism – and a fourth Trustees Award was also presented.
The 2021 Trustees Award was presented to Arif Ahmed.
Arif Ahmed is a free speech activist and fellow at Gonville & Caius College at the University of Cambridge. In March 2020, Ahmed proposed alterations to the Statement of Free Speech at Cambridge. The proposed amendments were created to make the legislation “clearer and more liberal.” He aimed to protect university campuses as places of innovation and invention. That requires protecting the right to freely and safely challenge received wisdom.
The 2021 Freedom of Expression Award for Journalism was presented to Samira Sabou.
Samira Sabou is a Nigerien journalist, blogger and president of the Niger Bloggers for Active Citizenship Association (ABCA). In June 2020, Sabou was arrested and charged with defamation under the restrictive 2019 cybercrime law in connection with a comment on her Facebook post highlighting corruption. She spent over a month in detention. Through her work with ABCA, she conducts training sessions on disseminating information on social media based on journalistic ethics. The aim is to give bloggers the means to avoid jail time. Sabou is also active in promoting girls’ and women’s right to freedom of expression, and wants to open her own news agency recruiting young people who want to be innovative in the field of information.
The 2021 Freedom of Expression Award for Art was presented to Tatyana Zelenskaya
Tatyana Zelenskaya is an illustrator from Kyrgyzstan, working on freedom of expression and women’s rights projects. Zelenskaya has found inspiration for her work in the waves of anti-government protests that have recently erupted across Russia and Kyrgyzstan. In 2020, she created the artwork for a narrative video game called Swallows: Spring in Bishkek, which features a woman who helps her friend that was abducted and forced into an unwanted marriage. The game was downloaded more than 70,000 times in its first month. Its purpose is to break the silence around the issue of bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, with the aim of preventing them altogether.
The 2021 Freedom of Expression Award for Campaigning was presented to Abdelrahman Tarek
Abdelrahman “Moka” Tarek is a human rights defender from Egypt, who focuses on defending the right to freedom of expression and the rights of prisoners. Tarek has experienced frequent harassment from Egyptian authorities as a result of his work. He has spent longer periods of time in prison and has experienced torture, solitary confinement, and sexual abuse. Authorities have severely restricted his ability to communicate with his lawyer and family. Tarek was arrested again in September 2020 and in December 2020, a new case was brought against him on terrorism-related charges. Tarek began a hunger strike in protest of the terrorism charges. In January 2021, he was transferred to the prison hospital due to a deterioration in his health caused by the hunger strike.
Index on Censorship chief executive Ruth Smeeth said: “As Index marks its 50th birthday it’s clear that the battle to guarantee free expression and free expression around the globe has never been more relevant. Inspired by the tremendous courage of our award winners, we will continue in our mission to defend free speech and free expression around the globe, give voice to the persecuted, and stand against repression wherever we find it”.
Trevor Philips, chair of the Index on Censorship board of trustees said: “Across the globe, the past year has demonstrated the power of free expression. For many the only defence is the word or image that tells the story of their repression; and for the oppressors the sound they fear most is diversity of thought and opinion. Index exists to ensure that in that battle, freedom wins – both abroad, and as this year’s Trustee award demonstrates here at home too.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]