Third Senegalese journalist handed criminal libel sentence in a week

New York, May 22, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists today reiterated a call to Senegalese authorities to end a pattern of criminal defamation prosecutions against the press after a court in the capital, Dakar, sentenced a journalist on Tuesday to a suspended prison term on a charge of “publishing false news,” according to news reports and his lawyer.

Papa Moussa Guèye, director of the private daily L’Exclusif, based in the city of Rufisque, 24 miles (38 kilometers) east of Dakar, was the third Senegalese journalist handed a six-month suspended prison term within a week, according to CPJ research.

Guèye was jailed for four weeks last year and his paper was raided by police over a story alleging presidential late-night “escapades.” Speaking to CPJ today, Guèye said he regretted using the word “escapades” to describe alleged outings by President Abdoulaye Wade and his chief of staff, but otherwise stood by the story. The story questioned where the two went on the supposed outings and whether the palace chief of protocol was aware of them. Wade did not publicly respond to the report.

Guèye said he did not plan to appeal the verdict because he believes the courts are politically influenced.

In its ruling, the court dismissed several serious criminal charges lodged against Guèye under Senegal’s penal code, including “offense to the head of state” and “acts that might compromise public security or cause serious political disturbance,” the latter a notorious national security provision known as Article 80, defense lawyer Cheikh Tidiane Faye told CPJ. The court acquitted reporter Pape Moussa Doukar, the author of the story, he said.

“Using criminal laws against Papa Moussa Guèye and other independent journalists chills the press into self-censorship,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “It is time for President Wade to honor his pledge for legal reform in line with Senegal’s claims to democratic credentials.”

Tuesday’s ruling came a week after Director Jules Diop and Editor-in-Chief Serigne Saliou Samb of private daily newspaper L’Observateur were handed six-month suspended prison sentences and heavy damages over a critical story.

Senegalese authorities have not decriminalized defamation, although Wade called on media stakeholders in 2004 to submit proposals for broad legal reforms, according to CPJ research. Authorities have yet to react to the proposals, and in November CPJ wrote to Wade urging him to follow up on the 2004 initiative.