Reporters Without Borders sent an open letter today to President Macky Sall of Senegal in response to the suspension a week ago by the Dakar Criminal Court of the magazine Exclusif and the sentencing of its managing editor, El Malick Seck, to six months' imprisonment.
The press freedom organization notes the discrepancy between the president's comments in favour of decriminalizing press offences and the prison sentences that continue to be handed down on journalists. It urges him to use his influence to persuade members of the National Assembly to approve the new press code submitted to them several months ago.
Here is the text of the letter:
Paris, 28 December 2012
Subject: Conviction of the journalist El Malick Seck and the decriminalization of press offences.
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that campaigns for freedom of information, wishes to make you aware of its surprise and puzzlement at the discrepancy between your comments in favour of decriminalizing press offences in Senegal and the prison sentences that continue to be handed down on journalists in the country.
At the closing ceremony of the meeting of the African Media Leaders Forum in Dakar last month, you said you were "for decriminalization of press offences", declaring: "When press offences are decriminalized, it means that there are solutions other than criminal litigation ... The level of democracy in Senegal can allow us to decriminalize press offences and allow the journalist to conduct his investigations."
However, on 18 December the Dakar Criminal Court suspended publication of the magazine Exclusif and sentenced its managing editor El Malick Seck to six months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay 100 million CFA francs in damages.
The offences were alleged to have taken place in June this year in the fifth issue of Exclusif which contained an article by El Malick Seck headlined "Sidy Lamine Niasse: blackmailer". The journalist wrote that Sidy Lamine Niasse, the head of the Walfadjri media group, had kept the outgoing government at arm's length and the then-president Abdoulaye Wade had "fired a financial shot across its bows". Exclusif alleged that 460 million CFA francs (more than 700,000 euros) - not 400 million - had been paid into the group's bank accounts from the public coffers.
Without commenting on the substance of a dispute between colleagues, Reporters Without Borders finds it regrettable that Senegal continues to impose custodial sentences on those found guilty of press offences.
As you know, our organization has for several years been encouraging the authorities in Dakar to decriminalize press offences. In May this year, shortly after your accession to the highest state office, we wrote to you to draw your attention to the new press code that had been before the National Assembly for several months and which would improve the health of the sector and afford greater protection to journalists.
We urged you to use your influence to persuade the members of Senegal's parliament to approve the code. We also asked you to support the decriminalization of press offences as advocated in the bill, so that journalists who committed offences in the course of their work would receive fairer and more appropriate penalties than prison sentences.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes your recent statements in support of decriminalization of press offences, but would encourage you to turn this commitment into action. Only the National Assembly's approval of the bill as expeditiously as possible will ensure that your comments do not remain empty words.
It is time for your country to carry through this reform, which was carried out several years ago by other African countries such as Togo and Côte d'Ivoire.
Thank you for you attention in this matter.
Picture : President Macky Sall (AFP/Seyllou)