Niang, a reporter with the news website Kéwoulo and Facebook commentator, was arrested on May 16, 2023, amid a wave of protests over the prosecution of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko ahead of presidential elections in 2024. She is being held in pre-trial detention on charges of acts “likely to undermine public security, direct provocation of an unarmed gathering, and usurping the function of a journalist.” Niang twice went on hunger strike to protest her detention and prison conditions.
Niang, also known as Maty Sarr Niang, is a reporter covering local politics for privately owned Kéwoulo, the outlet’s director, Babacar Touré, told CPJ. She also shares news and commentary on her Facebook page, which as of late 2023 had some 31,000 followers before being taken offline, according to CPJ’s review.
On May 16, 2023, officers with Senegal’s Urban Security, a unit dedicated to judicial investigations, arrested Niang at her home in the capital city of Dakar, according to news reports and her lawyer, Moussa Sarr, who spoke with CPJ.
On May 24, 2023, authorities charged Niang with “acts and maneuvers likely to undermine public security, direct provocation of an unarmed gathering, and usurping the function of a journalist,” according to Sarr. Under Senegal’s penal code, these charges are punishable by maximum sentences of five years, one year, and two years in prison respectively.
Kéwoulo’s Touré told CPJ that Niang’s arrest was connected to her reporting, as well as criticism of Senegalese authorities in her personal Facebook posts. “Every journalist who is not in their camp, they try everything to arrest you,” Touré said. “The thing is to put fear on us.”
In 2023, several journalists were arrested and subsequently released, including Pape Ndiaye, Serigne Saliou Gueye, and Pape Alé Niang, as tensions rose ahead of February 2024 elections to choose a successor to President Macky Sall.
In the days ahead of Niang’s arrest in May, there were multiple protests over a series of trials that could disqualify opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from running for the presidency. In June, at least 16 people died in the worst violence to rock Senegal in years after Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison on charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault.
As of late 2023, Niang was being held in Dakar’s Liberté 6 women’s prison where she twice went on hunger strikes to protest her imprisonment and conditions in the jail from July 30 to August 3 and from October 9 to 21, according to her mother, Ndèye Mour Diouf, and news reports.
CPJ’s text messages and phone calls to Senegal’s Ministry of Communication, Communications Minister Moussa Bocar Thiam, and the Ministry of Justice’s prison administration department did not receive any replies.