Police shut radio station, harass staff over interview with separatist

New York, October 17, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the closure today of private radio station Sud FM and the detention of staff following the broadcast of an interview with a rebel leader. Police halted broadcasting at the station’s studios in the capital Dakar and around the country. They also took away staff for questioning shortly after the interview aired.

Authorities also banned distribution of today’s Sud-Quotidien, a newspaper from the same media group as the radio station, which published the text of the interview with Salif Sadio, a military leader, and one of the most radical members of the Casamance rebel movement, the MFDC.

The MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance) has fought for independence for more than 20 years and low-level violence continues in the southern province, despite a peace accord in late 2004. Its residents are largely Christian and animist in contrast to the country’s Muslim majority.

Following protests by local journalists and politicians the government said in a statement that it had lifted the ban on Sud FM, which came back on air late in the day. The government also said that the detained journalists had been freed but it was not immediately clear whether they had all been released.

However, the authorities maintained a ban on “the broadcast, rebroadcast or publication of the incriminating interview by any media outlet.” The government said the Sadio interview was “in flagrant violation of constitutional and legal provisions on territorial integrity, national unity and public order.”

CPJ sources said some of the journalists held were likely to be charged. Among those detained and then released was Sud-FM’s director in the Casamance capital Ziguinchor, Ibrahima Gasama, who interviewed Sadio.

Sadio said he did not recognize the peace agreement, and that he would fight to chase the Senegalese “invader” out of Casamance. The interview also gave Sadio the chance to deny previous reports in the press that he was dead.

“It is outrageous that a democratic country like Senegal should resort to censorship and harassment of journalists in this way,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ Executive Director. “We call on the government to ensure that this harassment ends immediately.”

In 2003, Senegal expelled Radio France Internationale correspondent Sophie Malibeaux from the country after an interview she conducted with another hard-line Casamance rebel.