Senegalese journalist jailed, another in hiding

New York, October 15, 2007—A story describing purported late-night outings involving President Abdoulaye Wade led authorities in the capital, Dakar, to arrest a journalist last week, according to local journalists and news reports. A reporter involved in the story is wanted by police and has gone into hiding.

Papa Moussa Guèye, director of the private newspaper L’Exclusif—the only daily based in the city of Rufisque, 24 miles (38 kilometers) east of Dakar—was charged with offending the head of state, publishing false news, and endangering public security under Senegal’s penal code, defense lawyer Cheikh Tidiane Faye told CPJ. If convicted, Guèye could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, Faye said. The journalist was transferred to Dakar’s central prison after his arrest on October 8.

L’Exclusif has been closed since October 8 when officers seized “everything but furniture”—including the paper’s archives, its computers, and printing equipment, Sales Director Gorgui Kandji told CPJ. Police questioned Kandji for two hours on Thursday about the paper’s sources of financing, according to news reports.

The arrest and seizure came the same day the paper published a front-page story, written by political reporter Justin Ndoye and headlined “Late Outings at the Presidency: The Nocturnal Escapades of President Wade,” according to local journalists. The story reports that Wade and an aide have gone on a series of late-night trips; the story provides few details while raising questions about the outings. Ndoye went into hiding and was being sought by police, according to news reports.

“President Wade promised three years ago to decriminalize press laws in Senegal yet journalists continue to be detained for articles deemed ‘offensive’ to the head of state,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “The arrest of Papa Moussa Guèye is designed to have a chilling effect on critical reporting. We call for his immediate release.”

A day after the arrest, the state-run news service Agence de Presse Sénégalaise quoted Wade as saying: “I am for a free and independent press, although I don’t have a press which informs truthfully. I can suffer from it, I suffer from it enormously, but I won’t do anything about it.”

The administration has yet to deliver on a 2004 presidential pledge to ban criminal sanctions for press offenses, according to CPJ research. In the past year, Senegalese authorities have moved aggressively against journalists.

Moustapha Sow, director of the private newspaper L’Office, was jailed in July 2006 for criminal defamation, according to CPJ research. Ndiogou Wack Seck, director of now-shuttered private daily Il Est Midi, went into hiding in April when he was sentenced to six months in prison. And authorities handed suspended prison sentences to journalists with Il Est Midi and the independent daily Walf Grand-Place.

Two high-ranking officials, member of parliament Moustapha Cissé Lô and Transport Minister Farba Senghor, publicly threatened journalists this year over critical coverage, according to CPJ research.