Attacks on the Press 2001: Senegal

Conditions for local reporters in Senegal have worsened since the March 2000 election of President Abdulaye Wade. A fiery opposition leader for four decades before his rise to power, Wade had cultivated good relations with the media, which he rallied behind his Democratic Party with promises to scrap repressive clauses from the press law.

However, Senegal’s reputation as a model for press freedom in Africa has taken several blows under Wade’s administration. Although the colonial-era press law prescribes jail terms for “publishing false information,” “discrediting the state,” “inciting the population to disorder,” and “insulting the Head of State,” Wade’s predecessors generally refrained from using the law against the outspoken Senegalese media, which has grown to include 17 radio stations, eight daily newspapers, and four dozen other periodicals, according to the latest official count.

Wade not only failed to repeal the obnoxious press law clauses, he also announced that there were “limits” to press freedom. He made the statement as his government began peace negotiations with rebels in the Casamance region in December 2000. On at least five occasions since Wade took office, his government has detained journalists and pressured them to reveal confidential sources. Though most of these cases were not brought to trial, journalists were alarmed by the harassment, given that the Penal Code, under which the burden of proof rests with the accused, could force them to compromise sources in their own defense.

President Wade’s alliance with a powerful Muslim sect called the Mourides caused much hand wringing among local columnists, many of whom warned that Senegal’s secular state could be in jeopardy. At year’s end, police were still trying to find the perpetrator of an early October arson attack against the offices of the private Wal Fadjri media group, which includes a radio station called Walf FM, and the daily newspaper Wal Fadjri. Senegalese journalists suspect the attack related to scathing remarks about Wade’s Mouride connections made by Sidy Lamine Niasse, the host of the controversial Wollof-language radio show “Religion and Current Affairs,” which airs weekly on Walf FM.

The press has received some support from the new government. In the run-up to legislative elections in April, President Wade granted local media 300 million CFA (US$411,900), supplementing a press support fund set up by the previous government, to enable journalists to cover the 21-day election campaign. The government has also increased funding for the prestigious, Dakar-based Center for Media Studies (CESTI). To date, CESTI has trained nearly 800 journalists from several French-speaking African countries.

Costs for newsprint are high in Senegal and advertising is hard to come by, obliging publications to generate about 80 percent of their revenue through the sale of newspapers. This has led to the emergence of a fast-expanding tabloid press, known as the “press of the masses,” sparking heated debates on media ethics. In September, the Dakar tabloid Tract published scandalous photographs that allegedly showed Prime Minister Madior Boye in a compromising situation. Tract‘s publisher later admitted that the pictures had been manipulated.

March 5

Cheikh Dieng, Wal Fadjiri

Dieng, a political correspondent for the private Dakar daily Wal Fadjiri, was roughed up by supporters of Bèye Baldé, the mayor of Velingara, a town in southern Senegal.

An irate crowd gathered in front of Dieng’s home after Wal Fadjiri published his article on alleged infighting within the mayor’s entourage. The journalist was briefly manhandled when he came out of his home to investigate the commotion.

Dieng, who in the past had complained of threats from the mayor’s supporters, sustained minor bruises during the assault. It remains unclear whether or not the mayor, a member of President Abdulaye Wade’s ruling Democratic Party, ordered the assault on Dieng.

April 16

Moussa Diop, Sud Quotidien

Supporters of the ruling Democratic Party (PDS) in the rural southern town of Velingara hurled stones and shouted obscenities at Diop, a local correspondent for the Dakar daily Sud Quotidien, as he was on his way to interview a town official.

The assailants apparently had close links to the town’s PDS mayor, Bèye Baldé. The journalist escaped unharmed, but the windows of his car were shattered by stones.

Diop told reporters that the assault may have been linked to his coverage of infighting within the local chapter of the PDS. President Abdoulaye Wade, who was visiting the area, reportedly promised to pay for repairs to the journalist’s car.

July 10

Alioune Fall, Le Matin

Fall, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Le Matin, was detained for questioning at the Division of Criminal Investigation (DIC).

He was apprehended by DIC agents following the publication of an article in that day’s edition of Le Matin about the investigation into a recent riot at Dakar’s Central Prison. The article reported that several prisoners had escaped due to official negligence.

Police were particularly upset, Senegalese sources said, because the article mentioned that the inquiry into the riot had been assigned to the gendarmerie instead of to the police. There has historically been a strong rivalry between the two services.

While he was in detention, DIC officers tried to get Fall to reveal his sources, but the journalist refused. He was released after 24 hours.

On August 17, Fall was summoned to court, where the public prosecutor charged him with publishing false information, a criminal offense. Local sources said Fall pleaded not guilty and maintained the story was accurate. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

December 10

Babacar Ndiaye, Agence de Presse Sénégalaise
Diatta, Sud-FM

Ndiaye, a reporter for the state-owned Agence de Presse Sénégalaise (APS), and another journalist known only as Diatta, from the private radio station Sud-FM, were harassed by police officers while covering a rally in Thiès, 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the capital, Dakar.

Former Senegalese peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo called the demonstration to demand their salaries from the Senegalese government. The police had reportedly received orders to keep out the press.