The office of the Los Echos newspaper is seen following a vandalism attack on August 3, 2020, in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo: Cheikh Tidiane Ndiaye)

Senegalese newspaper Les Echos office vandalized over COVID-19 report

On August 3, 2020, at least five individuals entered the office of the privately owned Les Echos newspaper in Dakar, Senegal, and destroyed at least $15,000 worth of equipment, including eight computers and a television, according to Alassane Dramé, a reporter with the paper who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a statement by the Syndicate of Information and Communication Professionals of Senegal, a local trade group.

The attackers identified themselves as supporters of religious leader and politician Serigne Moustapha Sy, and asked who in the office was responsible for an article, published in the paper that day, alleging that Sy had been hospitalized with the coronavirus, according to Dramé and a copy of that article, which CPJ reviewed.

No one was injured in the attack, which only lasted a matter of minutes, Dramé said. He told CPJ that he was not at the office during the attack, but spoke with a colleague who was present. Dramé said the attackers claimed the report about Sy was false.

Sy is the leader of the Moustarchidine Wal Moustarchidate, an Islamic religious movement, and the president and founder of the opposition Unity and Rally Party (Parti de l’Unité et du Rassemblement, or PUR), according to reports and the syndicate statement.

In an August 3 statement, Habib Ndiaye, the party’s national secretary for youth, also claimed that Les Echos had published false information about Sy, and warned the newspaper, saying, “Leave it alone, if you want peace.”

Khalipha Ndiaye, national coordinator for the PUR, told CPJ via messaging app to email the party’s management board for comment.

In a statement emailed to CPJ after this article was published, the management board cited media reports saying that the attackers “acted alone.” The statement accused Les Echos of violating legal privacy standards in its reporting, and said that the article about Sy was published “without respect for the ethics of the noble journalist profession.”

Dramé told CPJ that Les Echos was cooperating with Senegal’s gendarmerie, which had come to the paper’s office to investigate, and said at least six people were facing prosecution under Article 412 of Senegal’s penal code for criminal association and looting.

CPJ’s calls to Serigne Bassirou Gueye, the public prosecutor for the case, went unanswered.

[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include the PUR board’s response to CPJ.]