Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Press liberalization in Niger

Africaphiles are often reading disturbing stories about attacks on press freedom on the continent. Even South Africa, arguably the freest state in Africa, recently rammed through a law that was widely denounced as a serious assault on the country's thriving independent media.

So I was pleased to read the following headline in a Zambian newspaper: President of Niger to be first to sign document abolishing barbaric media laws in Africa.

Niger's president Mahamadou Issoufou approved a bill that revoked the country's criminal defamation and insult laws. Such a repeal is one of the major appeals of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, which cites the laws as one of the severe threats to media freedom in Africa. By contrast, defamation is a civil offense in most western countries (which means the punishment is monetary, not prison). Criminal defamation laws are a popular tool used by autocratic regimes to silence dissent, by making criticism an imprisonable offense.

Kudos to Pres. Issoufou for the move. Many long-time opposition leaders turn autocratic as soon as they gain power. Senegal's Abdoulaye wade and former Cote d'Ivoire strongman Laurent Gbagbo are just two. So it's gratifying to see Niger's leader bucking the trend.

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