Authorities in Niger arrest five journalists

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Authorities in Niger have arrested five journalists in the latest sign of political tension ahead of elections in February in which President Issoufou Mahamadou will seek a second five-year term.

Tensions were raised on Nov. 14 when opposition leader Hama Amadou flew back to the country and was arrested. The former speaker of the national assembly and ally of Issoufou is the candidate of the MODEN party at the election.

Press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday that Souleymane Salha, publisher of private weekly Le Courrier, was arrested on Monday over a story criticizing the deputy police director over Hama’s arrest.

Police have also arrested four reporters from two television channels who filmed authorities using teargas on stone-throwing protesters during Hama’s return, the advocacy group said. Police held them for a day, confiscating equipment and cell phones.

“We urge the authorities to free Salha at once and stop using preventive detention to intimidate media personnel,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, Africa head for the group. There was no immediate comment from police.

Twenty media organizations called for a boycott of a state celebration of Niger’s National Press Freedom Day on Nov. 30.

Last month police arrested five reporters covering a student protest. In January, police attacked journalists reporting on demonstrations after Paris’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, the group said.

Hama was arrested on his arrival from Paris in connection with an investigation into a baby-trafficking ring in Nigeria. Hama says the allegations are politically motivated and false.

Reporting by Adoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Makini Brice, Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg