French journalists on trial in Niger face death sentence

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The Independent Online

Two French journalists arrested in Niger in west Africa face a possible death sentence when they go on trial next week.

The pair, working for the Franco-German television channel, Arte, are accused by the Niger authorities of visiting Tuareg rebels in the north of the country without permission – a charge punishable by death.

The French newspaper, Libération, complained yesterday that the French government's response to their arrest had been muted. It made a comparison with the personal intervention of President Nicolas Sarkozy to free three journalists arrested in Chad in November while covering a failed attempt by a French charity to smuggle orphans out of the country.

Diplomatic relations between France and Niger, a former colony, are said to be deeply strained. Last Thursday, an appeal for clemency was made by France to Niger's government, calling on it to release the two journalists who were, "fulfilling their duty to inform the public".

On Tuesday, several relatives and colleagues of the two men made a direct appeal to Niger's President, Mamadou Tandja, in a letter published in the newspaper Le Monde.

Thomas Dandois, a reporter, and Pierre Creisson, a cameraman, were arrested on 17 December. They are charged with, "involvement with armed gangs", by whom the authorities mean the Tuareg separatist rebels who have been active in the north of the country since last February.