A Senegalese court has ordered three journalists to serve one-month prison sentences and pay 10 million CFA francs (US$20,000) following a libel conviction. A former foreign minister issued the case after an article that criticized him was published.
The court has also ordered that Le Quotidien, the Senegal daily newspaper behind the story, be suspended for three months. AllAfrica, a multinational African news source, reported that the newspaper plans to file an appeal.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alioune Badara Cisse, also referred to as “ABC”, brought forth the case after an article titled "APR-Fired by the government, challenged and shunned by his own party ... the ABC of solitude," was published on June 20. APR refers to the Alliance for the Republic, the leading political party behind Senegal’s current president and one in which Cisse remains a founder a leading member.
Addressing recent tensions between the APR and Cisse, the article reported that, to some, Cisse was “the gravedigger of the Senegalese diplomacy and the chief troublemaker within the presidential party”.
Along with their former editor Madiambal Diagne, former reporter Mamadou Biaye and David Bastien, a French national and reporting intern, were targets in the libel suit. All were absent during sentencing. Reporters without Borders reported that Bastien has been dismissed from his position due to the case and has returned to France.
Both Diagne and Biaye are no strangers to arrests in relation to libel. Diagne also faced more a similar arrest in 2004 for spreading information that was likely to cause serious “political unrest and discredit public institution." He was later released. Similarly, Biaye was handed a suspended three-month jail sentence in 2012 for exposing ties between a mayor and an armed rebel group.
Freedom House reported that journalists in Senegal are routinely arrested and assaulted by authorities. Incidences peaked during the presidential elections that ended in February 2012. According to news reports, the new president, Macky Sall, has since made promises to abolish the criminalization of libel and defamation crimes, but changes have yet to be made. Although Senegal possesses free press laws, the vague delineations of “threats“ against public security stipulated within the law have been used to justify the arrest of journalists and silence anti-government reports. According to Freedom House, several media outlets continue to speak out against the government injustice.