Senegal attacks prompt worry, speculation

In the Senegalese capital, Dakar, speculation surrounded Air Transport Minister Farba Senghor after unidentified men using a government vehicle ransacked the newsrooms of 24 Heures Chrono and L’As, two independent newspapers. The attacks came just three days after Senghor threatened unspecified retaliation against the papers over critical stories. CPJ issued an alert on Tuesday, calling attention the situation.

On Tuesday, the private daily L’Observateur quoted unnamed police sources as confirming the arrests of several “criminals” in the Sunday attacks. They were allegedly tracked with the help of fingerprints left at the scenes. Nettali reported that an official in the police urban safety division had taken statements from the editors of the newspapers. Earlier, an Interior Ministry spokesman promised the perpetrators and masterminds would be brought to justice.

Such rhetoric has rarely translated into justice for members of Senegal’s independent press corps, one of the most vibrant in Africa. Officers allegedly involved in the brutal beating of two sports journalists in June, for instance, have yet to be questioned by the senior judge assigned to the case.

Senegal, once considered a haven of press freedom in Africa, has seen an unusual level of venomous rhetoric against the independent media, fueled by Senghor and President Abdoulaye Wade, once an ally of the press. Several independent Senegalese journalists have told CPJ that this rhetoric from the highest levels of government encourages attacks and suggests that there will be impunity for those threatening the press, including security forces, government supporters, and members of the politically influential Mourides Muslim brotherhood.

Senghor, who was never publicly held accountable for threatening to “beat up” a journalist in 2007, released a statement Tuesday denying any involvement in the attacks. It was Senghor, however, who last week issued a statement threatening unspecified retaliation against L’As, 24 Heures Chrono, Le Courrier, and the weekly Pic over stories critical of him. For instance, 24 Heures recently published an internal audit critical of Senghor’s salary as board chairman of a private bus company, according to the paper’s managing editor, El Malick Seck.

In a statement Tuesday, Senghor suggested the newspapers might have provoked the attacks.

“Violence is no one’s perquisite, and when one saws the wind, one should expect to reap the whirlwind,” he said. “Can we expect to live in security when, in a very religious country like Senegal, some journalists insult and humiliate daily and without restraint religious leaders, institutions of the Republic like the head of state, administrative and political authorities as well as honest citizens who have no other means to defend themselves and restore their honor?” Senghor’s statement asked.

Similarly, after two sports journalists were beaten by police in June, Interior Minister Cheikh Tidiane Sy released a statement accusing one of the victims of provoking the incident by “punching” an officer.

Seck, L’As Editor-in-Chief Cheikh Oumar Ndao, and prominent editor Madiambal Diagne, told CPJ that they were hiring their own security guards. It was “due to state failure,” Diagne said.