Conditions for press in Senegal worsening

June 26, 2008

His Excellency Abdoulaye Wade
President of the Republic of Senegal
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Senegal to the United States
2112 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Via Facsimile: (202) 332-6315

Dear Mr. President,

Following the brutal beating of two Senegalese journalists by police after a soccer match on Saturday, we are writing to express our alarm at an increasing pattern of physical attacks and threats against independent journalists in the line of duty in recent weeks and months. Thorough, transparent police investigations or prosecutions of these abuses have seldom taken place. We are deeply concerned about an ongoing culture of impunity for crimes against journalists.

Sports editor Babacar Kambel Dieng of Radio Futurs Médias (RFM) and reporter Kara Thioune of bilingual station West Africa Democracy Radio, are still recovering from injuries inflicted by policemen following a World Cup soccer qualifier match against Liberia on Saturday evening.

Plainclothes officers from the police’s Multipurpose Intervention Brigade attacked Dieng and Thioune while they were interviewing Senegal defender Pape Malikou Diakhaté, according to local news reports. The journalists told CPJ the officers used tasers on them, then punched, kicked and handcuffed them after they refused to obey an order to immediately leave the area and proceed to a post-game conference hall. They were dragged to a secluded room, and further beaten while handcuffed, they told CPJ. Dieng’s voice recorder accidentally captured the sounds of the beating, which was later broadcast on a local radio station.

Dieng and Thioune were released nearly two hours later following negotiations between journalists and the police, according to editor Aliou Goloko, a member of Senegal’s sports press association. Goloko led a media boycott of the post-game press conference to protest the attack. RFM has filed a complaint with the police, editor in chief Alassane Diop told CPJ.

Reacting to the incident, Interior Ministry Cheikh Tidiane Sy announced the launch of an investigation into the matter, according to local media reports. “Proof must be established so that we can act according to the law,” state-run daily Le Soleil quoted him as saying. Information Minister Abdoul Aziz Sow told CPJ that the government would await the results of the investigation. The private daily Le Quotidien later quoted him as saying that “the safety of information and communication professionals remains an essential concern of the government, and chiefly of the head of state and the prime minister.”

Despite these encouraging public statements, we are deeply concerned about the incident and a series of recent verbal and physical attacks on independent journalists by top officials, security forces, and influential religious authorities. In fact, Dieng and Thioune were not the first journalists to be brutalized by security forces this year. Riot police used tasers on Walf TV reporter Ousmane Mangane on March 30 as he was attempting to interview an opposition member of parliament, Mously Diakhaté, on live television during an anti-government demonstration in Dakar.

On June 3, during an international conference on World Food Security in Rome, you threatened editor Yakham Mbaye of the daily Le Populaire in front of several reporters, according to Senegalese journalists who were present at the scene and recorded your words: “You there, don’t ask me any questions. Leave me alone. I don’t answers questions from you. If you ask me a question, you’ll see. Let this be the last time you try to ask me a question.” Le Populaire is known for its critical coverage of the government, according to local journalists.

Last year, three members of the former government, namely Hydraulics Minister Adama Sall, former Transport Minister Farba Senghor, and ruling party politician Moustapha Cissé Lô, threatened journalists over critical coverage, but none were ever publicly held accountable or questioned by police despite complaints filed against them, according to CPJ research. Sall sent a threatening note to the offices of the private weekly magazine Weekend; Senghor threatened over a newsroom speakerphone to “beat up” private daily Walf Grand-Place‘s reporter Pape Sambaré Ndour, after calling the journalist a “bastard;” and Lô threatened to harm any journalist of Radio Disso FM who would mention his name in response to a critical broadcast, and he warned that he would “send vandals to ransack your radio.”

Journalists covering the activities of Senegal’s politically influential Mouride Muslim brotherhood have also been attacked or threatened.

Reporter Babou Birame Faye of the weekly magazine Weekend was punched on June 13 by Serigne Bara Mbacké, the Mouride leader, or caliph, while seeking to interview him in the town of Mbacké, east of Dakar, according to news reports and local journalists. Faye was not injured and the caliph apologized, according to local journalists. The incident came after Weekend Publisher Madiambal Diagne filed a complaint in April reporting death threats from Mouride followers over an interview with a wife of the caliph, according to media reports. Police allegedly dismissed Diagne’s claims as “distractions,” he told CPJ.

We are concerned that a number of complaints filed by several journalists in connection with these incidents have never been thoroughly and transparently investigated, and that the responsible officials and security forces have not been held publicly accountable for their actions. For instance, a complaint filed by RFM reporter Pape Cheikh Fall, who was attacked in May 2006 by Mouride disciples armed with metal cables over a report criticizing the group’s aggressive support of your administration, has never been investigated either, according to local journalists.

In a telephone interview with CPJ this week, Senegalese Information Minister Sow acknowledged that investigations of attacks against journalists were not thoroughly conducted, but declared that the government had committed itself to mediation to amicably resolve disputes. As an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting our colleagues worldwide, we are calling on you to use your influence to ensure that those intimidating journalists are brought to justice within the framework of the legal system.

In this environment of threats and intimidation, we are very concerned that you made a personal threat against journalist Yakham Mbaye. We respectfully ask that you refrain from such behavior and instead use your influence to ensure that anyone who harasses and attacks journalists is brought to justice within the framework of the legal system.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your reply. for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director