Radio France International correspondent expelled

New York, October 23, 2003— The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed that Senegalese authorities have refused to lift an October 6 expulsion order against Sophie Malibeaux, correspondent for Radio France Internationale (RFI). At the time, the order was temporarily reversed, but Malibeaux has again been ordered to leave the country.

Senegalese authorities accused the journalist of threatening public security after RFI aired an interview with a hard-line member of a rebel group from Casamance, a region in southern Senegal. Malibeaux told CPJ that she plans to leave Senegal on Friday, October 24.

RFI said one of its top directors had gone to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, from October 20 to 22 “to convince the Senegalese authorities to reverse their decision to expel Sophie Malibeaux,” but that the talks had failed. RFI said it “reaffirms its confidence in Sophie Malibeaux and deplores that she is obliged to leave Senegal.”

Alain Le Gougec, head of RFI’s French Service for Africa, told CPJ that RFI would keep its Dakar office open, but that it was out of the question to replace Malibeaux “in the operating conditions that the authorities seem to be imposing on us.”

“This action undermines Senegal’s reputation as a democratic example in the region and calls into question President Abdoulaye Wade’s commitment to press freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Wade and the Senegalese government to lift this expulsion order immediately and to allow journalists to work freely.”

Security agents detained Malibeaux on October 7 in Ziguinchor, the capital of Casamance, and flew her under military escort to Dakar, where she was served with an expulsion order and told to leave the country immediately. Malibeaux had been covering a congress of Casamance rebel groups in Ziguinchor aimed at preparing peace talks with the government. Before the gathering started, RFI had aired an interview with Alexandre Djiba, a member of the Casamance rebel movement who had boycotted the meeting.

RFI management protested from Paris and negotiated with Senegalese authorities to suspend the order pending further discussions, according to sources at RFI. On the evening of October 7, Malibeaux was at Dakar airport preparing to leave the country when she was informed that the authorities had reversed the decision to expel her immediately.