A court in Niger on Wednesday freed journalist Ibrahim Manzo on bail after he had been detained for more than four months without trial for alleged links with Tuareg rebels, his lawyer said.
Moussa Coulibaly said on private radio that Manzo, the managing editor of the news bimonthly Air-Info, was released by an appeals court in Zinder, which ”annulled an order to refuse bail issued by a judge in Agadez”.
Manzo was jailed on October 9 for ”criminal association”, accused of having connections with the Tuareg rebel Movement of Niger People for Justice (MNJ), active particularly in the Agadez and Air highlands on the southern edge of the Sahara.
The MNJ wants Tuaregs, traditionally nomadic Berber peoples of the desert, to be included in Niger’s army and paramilitary corps and to benefit from the poor, landlocked country’s uranium mining sector. It threatened late in January to attack mines run by Areva of France, the world’s largest nuclear power company.
President Mamadou Tandja refuses to negotiate with the MNJ and in November extended by three months a state of emergency that has reinforced the army’s powers in the conflict zone.
The government dismisses the movement as bandits and drug dealers, and has clamped down hard on journalists who cover its activities.
On January 18, the Niger judiciary decided to release two French journalists on bail after they were held for a month and faced a possible death sentence for interviewing Tuareg rebels.
Coulibaly, who also represented Thomas Dandois and Pierre Creisson, then said that he was ”as happy as my clients are”, particularly to see that his country’s legal system had applied ”the law and nothing but the law”.
The pair, who work for Franco-German TV channel Arte, were allowed to fly back to France but the charges against them still stand.
The Niamey appeals court has yet to rule on February 12 on the ”legal or illegal nature” of wiretap phone tapes presented as evidence against another Niger journalist, Moussa Kaka.
Kaka, who is a correspondent for Radio France Internationale, was jailed on September 26 for his alleged links with the rebels but the tapes are the only evidence against him.
”I have confidence in our magistrates to separate the wheat from the chaff,” Coulibaly said on Wednesday. — Sapa-AFP