Khalil Kamara, a journalist who works with Dakar based newspaper, Senego, was arrested on September 5, 2023, and arraigned on September 6, 2023, before he was released later on the latter day. The charges brought against him included disseminating false news, defamation, insulting an official body, and offending the head of state.
His crime was that he published a reader’s opinion which was critical of the Head of State and some judges, in connection with the incarceration of Senegalese opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko. Kamara is just one of a growing number of journalists subjected to harassment by Senegalese authorities for nearly two years.
APPEL makes an APPEAL
The Association des Éditeurs et Professionnels de la presse en ligne (Association of Publishers and Online Press Professionals – APPEL) issued a press release calling for the release of Khalil Kamara. It pointed out that Kamara was not the author of the contentious article but merely the presenter of an an opinion that was duly signed by its author.
APPEL expressed its “regret over the Senegalese government’s propensity to easily detain journalists”.
Furthermore, the association highlighted that for nearly a year, almost a dozen journalists have faced legal inquiries for matters that could have been handled by the Conseil pour le Respect de l’Ethique et de la Déontologie dans les Médias (Council for the Respect of Ethics and Deontology in the Media – CORED) an institution empowered by the country’s press code which was enacted in 2017.
“We firmly believe that imprisonment is an unsuitable solution to the current challenges confronting the media,” the association declared.
Imprisoned for reporting
Kamara’s arrest constituted the second incident involving a journalist from Senego in three weeks. Abdou Khadre Sakho, another journalist from the same media outlet, was detained on August 14, 2023. His arrest followed a summon by the Dakar Criminal Investigation Division on charges of “disseminating false news, and engaging in actions likely to discredit state institutions”.
The charges followed Sakho’s transcription and publication of an interview with the chairman of the Association pour le soutien et la réinsertion sociale des détenus (Association for the Support and Social Reintegration of Prisoners – Asrad), Ibrahima Fall, on August 13, 2023. In that interview, which had been granted by another online media outlet, Sans Limites, Fall claimed there were “negotiations” between Sonko and the state authorities, including a suggestion that Sonko, who also serves as mayor of Ziguinchor, should seek medical treatment in Guinea-Bissau. Sakho was released on August 16, 2023, and his case was dismissed.
Contacted on telephone, Mangoné KA, Senego’s editor-in-chief, called on authorities to allow journalists to work freely and to place their trust in them. He emphasized that Senego remains impartial in its editorial policies.
Failure to uphold a commitment
In November 2022, the Coordination of Press Associations (Cap) met with the Ministers of Justice and Communication, along with the Public Prosecutor, to advocate for the release of journalist Pape Alé Niang, Manager of the privately-owned news website, Dakar Matin. CAP sought to draw attention to the numerous arrests of journalists and underscored how counterproductive imprisoning them is. They also suggested that those in power should refer complaints against journalists to the CORED instead of resorting to imprisonment for any grievances against journalists. The authorities acknowledged these concerns but have not taken any meaningful action, leading to continued imprisonment of journalists, including the two with Senego.
The concerns of the MFWA
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), joins APPEL and Cap, to express concern about the widespread arrests of journalists in Senegal, particularly regarding coverage of the Sonko affair, a subject the authorities have made a taboo.
Senegal used to be celebrated as a model democracy in Africa. However, the country has in recent times taken a retrogressive path as evidenced by the serial imprisonment of Pape Ale Niang, the arrests of Babacar Touré and Oustaz Assane Seck, and the detention of Pape Ndiaye and Sérigne Saliou Guèye.
The manipulation of laws on the publication of false news and defamation to detain and criminally prosecute journalists contradicts Senegal’s otherwise glowing image. It is to be noted that the ECOWAS Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that such repressive acts, including pre-trial detentions, violate the right to freedom of expression under international law. This was in a case between the Gambian government and four journalists supported by the Federation of African Journalists. The ECOWAS Court consequently ordered The Gambia to amend its press laws in line with international law.
The MFWA therefore calls on the Senegalese authorities, in light of the country’s respected status within ECOWAS, to adhere to the ECOWAS Court’s ruling. We also urge the Senegalese government to show greater tolerance towards journalists and critics, and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the various stakeholders within Senegal’s political space, to reverse the high tensions surrounding the build up to the 2024 elections.