Senegal: Freedom Of The Press Suffers A Body Blow – OpEd
By Lisa Vives
Journalism is in trouble in Senegal.
On March 3, a reporter with the news service Walf TV was detained and then charged with six crimes, including “spreading false news,” after reporting on the questionable prosecution of an opposition politician.
The legal columnist, Pape Ndiaye, was arrested based on his expose of politician and opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, who was accused of rape.
According to Ndiaye’s attorney, Moussa Sarr, the alleged victim never filed a complaint against Sonko and the case was being pursued at the discretion of a government prosecutor.
Pape Ndiaye had alleged in the broadcast that all 19 deputy prosecutors in Dakar were in favour of dismissing the case. However, it was the wish of President Macky Sall that the case be sent for criminal prosecution.
Angela Quintal, with the Committee to Protect Journalists, urged Senegalese authorities to immediately release Pape Ndiaye, cease jailing members of the press for their work, and reform the country’s laws to ensure they cannot be used to criminalize journalism.
“The jailing of journalists has thrown into serious doubt Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy in West Africa,” said Quintal, Africa program coordinator with the New York-based CPJ.
The six charges filed against Ndiaye include provoking a crowd, contempt of court, intimidation and reprisals against members of the judiciary, speech discrediting a judicial act, spreading fake news, and endangering the lives of others, the journalist’s lawyer told CPJ.
In November 2022, another journalist, Pape Ale Niang, head of the news website Dakar Matin, was arrested and charged with “divulging information likely to harm national defense” on the same case.
At the request of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 78 African journalists and press freedom organizations signed a letter asking for the release of editor Pape Alé Niang and to respect the country‘s constitution, which enshrines press freedom.
In the letter, titled “Pape Ale Niang Has No Place Being in Prison,” they wrote: “We, journalists from the African continent, are alarmed by the plight of our colleague Pape Alé Niang and are very concerned about the consequences of his imprisonment on his health, on press freedom and on the right of all citizens to news and information.
His imprisonment highlights other challenges for the media in Senegal, once a press freedom flagship in Africa. Further, Senegal lacks a law on access to information, which prevents journalists and citizens from accessing state-held information. It is time to remedy this without delay and to amend the Press Code in order to decriminalize press offences.
CPJ’s calls to government spokesperson Abdou Kerim Fofana and Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall rang unanswered or did not connect.