Senegalese government official sends threatening note to journalist

New York, December 4, 2007—
A Senegalese government official threatened a reporter with unspecified harm on Monday in response to a story implicating him in an alleged corruption scandal, according to news reports and local journalists. He was the third top official this year to threaten physical harm against journalists in response to critical coverage of the government, according to CPJ research.

Hydraulics Minister Adama Sall had a hand-written note delivered to the offices of the private weekly magazine Weekend in the capital, Dakar, according to Editor-in-Chief Babacar Diop. The note, sealed in an official envelope bearing the logo of the Transport Ministry, stated that “it would not be long” before Weekend reporter Babou Birame Faye “pays for his wanton hostility,” according to a copy of the document obtained by CPJ. The note was addressed to prominent journalist Madiambal Diagne, president of the media group Avenir, publisher of Weekend.

The threatening note was in response to a story in Friday’s edition headlined “Scandal at the Ministry of Hydraulics,” which described the alleged disappearance of 42.5 million CFA francs (US$95,000) of equipment, according to CPJ research. Quoting a government audit report and conflicting interviews with several ministry officials, including Sall, the story concluded that “grave suspicions” weigh on the minister and his top aide. It also quotes Sall as denying any knowledge of the allegations. Sall was linked to several financial scandals in recent years, but was never officially indicted, according to local journalists.

“We’re disturbed by an alarming trend of impunity for top officials of President Abdoulaye Wade’s government who intimidate critical journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on President Wade to follow his stated commitment to promoting a free press with concrete actions, including holding his own officials accountable for using their positions to act above the laws.”

Wade’s government has yet to publicly discipline two top officials of his ruling PDS party after they threatened reporters with physical harm over critical stories this year, according to CPJ research. Neither have police questioned then-Transport Minister Farba Senghor and parliamentarian Moustapha Cissé Lô over threats allegedly made against the private daily Walf Grand-Place and Radio Disso FM, local journalists told CPJ. In a government cabinet reshuffle today, Senghor was appointed trade minister while Sall retained his current post, according to news reports.

On Friday, Wade urged journalists to seek officials’ comments before publishing stories about the government, according to state-run daily Le Soleil. “Because anything that affects the government affects the image of Senegal, it is in our interest to always maintain a positive image of Senegal,” he was quoted as saying.