Journalists given suspended jail sentence for defamation

New York, September 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the jail sentences given to two journalists in Senegal for defamation. A court in the capital Dakar on Tuesday handed down six-month suspended prison sentences to Alioune Ndiaye and Saliou Sambe, respectively director and reporter with the private daily L’Observateur, according to local news reports and CPJ sources.

They were also fined 50,000 CFA francs ($100) each over a story about alleged corruption. Ndiaye told CPJ that his newspaper would appeal.

A construction company, Consortium d’Entreprise, brought the defamation suit over a June 2 story alleging it had bribed government officials for contracts. It denied the allegations.

“We deplore this prison sentence for Alioune Ndiaye and Saliou Sambe,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Libel should be a civil matter. Senegal’s continued use of criminal laws to harass and intimidate journalists casts doubt on its democratic credentials.”

Diatou Cissé Coulibaly, Secretary General of the Senegalese press union SYNPICS said that since coming to power in 2000, the government of President Abdoulaye Wade had used criminal defamation laws to intimidate the press, leading to a climate where “journalists can no longer work normally.”

Although journalists are rarely imprisoned in Senegal, several criminal cases have been brought in recent years, according to CPJ research. After a prominent journalist was imprisoned under a vaguely worded national security statute in July 2004, Wade promised to abolish criminal sanctions for press offenses. However, his government has still to make good on that promise. This year, a journalist spent two weeks in jail after being convicted of defamation. For more information, see CPJ’s July 18 update.