Maniane Sène Lô, the manager and owner of the privately owned online news outlet Allô Sénégal, has been detained in Senegal since November 2023 on multiple charges, including defamation, public insults, incitement to the crime of murder without effect, advocating for the crime of murder, and usurpation of the position of journalist.
On November 11, 2023, agents from the police’s Criminal Investigations Division (DIC) arrested Lô and five of his colleagues at Allô Sénégal’s premises in the western Thiès region and took them to the DIC station in the capital, Dakar, according to news reports and a colleague at Allô Sénégal who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
The arrests followed a complaint by Senegal’s Minister of Tourism and Leisure, Mame Mbaye Kan Niang, over a November 9 Allô Sénégal broadcast, reviewed by CPJ, that discussed allegations that Niang had committed adultery, according to the same colleague and the news website Senegal 7. Allô Sénégal later removed the report, and in a November 12 YouTube video, the outlet apologized to Niang, stating that the story was inaccurate.
On November 17, a Dakar court charged Lô and three colleagues—news presenter Ndèye Astou Bâ, commentator and camera operator Daouda Sow, and commentator Papa El Hadji Omar Yally—with defamation, public insults, and usurpation of the position of a journalist, according to news reports and their lawyer, Famara Faty, who spoke to CPJ.
Faty told CPJ that Lô was charged for being the legal representative of Allô Sénégal, which made him responsible for the actions of the other journalists.
The four were also charged with incitement to the crime of murder without effect—which under Senegalese law means that the alleged verbal provocation was not followed by an action—and advocating for the crime of murder for comments made during the broadcast claiming that the penalty for Niang’s alleged adultery under Islamic law would be death. Faty said the Islamic provisions on adultery were not applied in Senegal.
The charges of usurpation of a position and defamation are each punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, while public insult carries a potential two-month sentence, according to Senegal’s penal code. A conviction of advocating for the crime of murder could carry a three-year prison sentence, while incitement to the crime of murder carries up to five years’ imprisonment.
Lô was transferred to Dakar’s Rebeuss prison, along with Sow and Yally, while Bâ was taken to Liberté 6’s women’s prison, Faty said. Diop and Dièye, who were not at the Allô Sénégal offices when the program about Niang was recorded, were charged with usurpation of the position of a journalist and released under judicial supervision, he said.
Niang, who belongs to the ruling Alliance for the Republic party, told a local TV station that he had filed a complaint against 25 people, including the six Allô Sénégal journalists and content creators on social networks.
In the Allô Sénégal broadcast, Yally, Sow, and Bâ described allegations that Niang had committed adultery as ironic, given Niang’s negative comments in 2022 about opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was facing charges of raping a woman in a massage parlor.
Sonko was acquitted on the rape charge in June 2023 but was jailed for two years for corrupting youth, jeopardizing his bid to stand for the presidency in Senegal’s February 2024 elections. Sonko was also found guilty of libel against Niang in March 2023.
Lô’s colleague told CPJ that Niang saw Allô Sénégal as supportive of Sonko.
As of late 2023, no court date had been set for Lô’s trial, according to Faty and the journalist’s colleague. Lô suffers from respiratory problems, which have been aggravated by his detention, the colleague said.
As of late 2023, CPJ’s calls and letter to Niang at the Ministry of Tourism and Leisure and calls and text messages to Justice Minister Aissata Tall Sall’s communications officer did not receive any responses.