Senegal: Authorities jail politician, rebuke foreign media over reportage 

The Senegalese authorities have arrested an opposition politician and issued a warning to a prominent foreign media organization over their coverage of the incident.

On July 11, 2023, police officers arrested and detained Birame Souleye Diop for allegedly acting in a manner likely to undermine public order, and also, committing an offence against the President of the Republic. The charges stem from a statement the MP made regarding the president’s decision not to run for a third mandate in 2024, as widely feared and speculated. In a comment, Diop had said President Sall could reconsider his decision if any future candidates from the ruling party were to suffer any harm. This was in apparent reference to the situation in Cote d’Ivoire where President Alassane Ouattara, controversially stood for and won an election for a third mandate, following the death of his Prime Minister, who had originally been the ruling party’s candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

The government accused the politician of committing an offense against President Macky Sall, and proceeded to arrest him, sparking outrage in the country.

The arrested MP’s lawyer, Moussa Sarr, lamented that his client was arrested despite the fact that he apologized after facing some criticism over his remarks.

The Yewwi Askan Wi parliamentary group strongly condemned what they said was an attack on universal suffrage, opposition rights, and on the status of the MP. They said that Diop’s “unconstitutional, arbitrary and abusive detention outrageously violates Article 61 of the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, which guarantee MPs parliamentary immunity.”

In a separate incident, the government of Senegal has severely reprimanded the international media organization, France 24, accusing the channel of unethical, biased, tendentious and subversive treatment of information in its coverage of the country’s news, including the arrest and detention of Birame Souleye Diop.

In a note to France 24, the government emphasized that Diop’s detention was in response to his alleged disrespectful and defamatory remarks about the head of state, rejecting the media house’s claim that he is being misrepresented.

In the same statement, the government denounced what it said is an attempt by France 24 to undermine the credibility of the Senegalese police in their coverage of a violent demonstrations that erupted in June 2023. The government called on the media channel to do accurate reporting in the future and refrain from tarnishing Senegal’s reputation.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is deeply concerned about the arbitrary arrest of opposition politician Birame Souleye Diop, especially when he has issued an apology for his controversial comments. We call on the authorities to release the MP immediately to enable him to effectively represent his constituency in Parliament. We express deep concern about the continuous deterioration of the civic space in Senegal and we urge all actors to be more tolerant and conciliatory.

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