Criminal case against prominent journalist dropped

New York, May 4, 2006—The case against prominent journalist Madiambal Diagne was dropped on Tuesday on a procedural issue, ending a legal saga that spanned nearly two years and galvanized the Senegalese press. But the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern that the criminal charges used to jail Diagne for more than two weeks in July 2004 remain on the books.

The charges against Diagne, owner and managing editor of the popular independent newspaper Le Quotidien, stemmed from articles he wrote in 2004 about alleged executive interference in the judiciary and corruption in the customs service. Diagne was imprisoned under a controversial national security provision known as Article 80 of the penal code. He was also charged with publishing “false news” and printing secret government documents, both criminal charges under Senegalese law.

“The Senegalese justice system has done the right thing, and I think that the decision [to drop the case] will show the authorities in Senegal that any attempt to muzzle the press is doomed to failure,” Diagne wrote in an e-mail to CPJ.

In July 2004, under intense domestic and international pressure over Diagne’s imprisonment, President Abdoulaye Wade promised to do away with Article 80; three months later, he announced that he also supported the decriminalization of press offenses. Yet Senegal’s media laws remain unchanged, and Article 80 remains on the books. Article 80 was used again in 2005 to jail Idrissa Seck, the former prime minister and Wade’s political rival, for several months.

“While we are relieved that the charges against our colleague Madiambal Diagne have finally been dropped, we are deeply concerned that Senegalese authorities are still dragging their heels over legal reform,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “President Wade must demonstrate his stated commitment to press freedom by reforming Article 80 and working to remove criminal penalties for press offenses.”

For more information about Madiambal Diagne’s case, read CPJ’s special report, “Senegal: Freedom with Limits.”