CPJ calls for release of arrested editor

New York, July 12, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed that Madiambal Diagne, publication director of the Senegalese independent daily Le Quotidien, has been imprisoned and calls for his immediate release. Diagne has been in prison since Friday, July 9, in connection with articles about alleged fraud in the customs service and alleged government interference in the judiciary.

Diagne was summoned to police headquarters in the capital, Dakar, on Thursday, July 8. He was questioned about the articles and pressed to reveal his sources, which he refused to do, according to international news reports and local sources. He was told to return the following day. When he did so, he was charged with “publishing secret documents,” “publishing false information,” and “acts and maneuvers likely to cause public unrest and discredit public institutions.” He was arrested and taken to prison.

According to Diagne’s lawyer, Boucounta Diallo, the journalist faces several years in prison if convicted. Diagne has been charged in connection with two separate articles he wrote. The first, which appeared in Le Quotidien on June 23, 2004, reported on allegations of fraud in the customs service and implicated government officials including the former Customs Director Boubacar Camara. The piece included a reference to a secret June 11 letter from Finance Minister Abdoulaye Diop to President Abdoulaye Wade concerning an inquiry into the scandal.

The second article, which appeared in Le Quotidien on July 5, 2004, accused President Wade and Justice Minister Sérigne Diop of sending certain judges to the interior of the country because they are too independent-minded, while promoting less qualified judges to more senior positions. Diagne also wrote that some members of the judiciary were unhappy and were preparing to take action.

“This is a deeply troubling development in a country that has been considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Wade to ensure that Madiambal Diagne is released immediately. We also call on Senegal’s government to work toward eliminating criminal penalties for press offenses.”

Almost all of Senegal’s private newspapers refrained from publishing on Monday to protest Diagne’s arrest and what they say is a government attempt to muzzle the press. Private radio stations also protested by airing only music interspersed with information about Diagne’s arrest and imprisonment.

In October 2003, Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent Sophie Malibeaux was expelled from Senegal. She was accused of threatening national security after RFI broadcast her interview with a hard-line member of a separatist rebel group from Casamance, a region in southern Senegal. See CPJ’s alert of October 23, 2003.