In Senegal, journalist sentenced to prison

New York, April 18, 2007—A court in the capital, Dakar, handed a prison sentence and heavy damages against a tabloid director on criminal defamation charges over a story trumpeting an alleged high-profile corruption scandal, according to local journalists and news reports.

Ndiogou Wack Seck of the private, pro-government daily Il Est Midi was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay damages of 40 million CFA francs (US$41,000), according to the same sources. Seck was barred from working as a journalist for three months and his paper was banned from publication for the same period. Neither the journalist nor a defense lawyer was present in court. Seck is now the target of an arrest warrant.

“We condemn the continued use of criminal defamation laws to jail journalists for their work,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We reiterate our appeal to President Abdoulaye Wade to honor his 2004 pledge to decriminalize defamation.”

The ruling stemmed from a complaint filed by state counsel Ousmane Sèye and Alex Ndiaye, director of the private station Xew-xew FM and a Wade supporter, in connection with a November 14, 2006 story, according to private daily L’Observateur. The story alleged impropriety by Sèye and Ndiaye over their roles in the government’s February 2006 release from prison of embattled former prime minister Idrissa Seck, according to CPJ research. Idrissa Seck was freed suddenly and without explanation after seven months in prison on corruption charges, according to international news reports.

Ndiogou Wack Seck is one of at least three journalists harassed, prosecuted, or jailed for stories linked to the ex-prime minister scandal, according to CPJ research. In 2005, police summoned veteran political commentator Abdou Latif Coulibaly and several other journalists over alleged ties to Seck. In February 2006, director Moustapha Sow of the private newspaper L’Office was sentenced to prison and jailed four months later over a story linked to the scandal. He was paroled after two weeks in prison.

Senegalese authorities have continuously used a provision of the Senegalese penal code to prosecute defamation matters, despite a 2004 presidential pledge to ban criminal sanctions for press offenses, according to CPJ research. Last month, two journalists with the private daily Walf Grand-Place were handed suspended prison terms on defamation charges over a story on a consumer complaint against a car dealership.