The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has petitioned a number of UN bodies, Africa Union and ECOWAS leaders to help release Senegalese journalist Pape Ale Niang who has been detained for over a month now.
“The journalist is on hunger strike and his health is failing. Consequently, we are requesting your intervention with the authorities in Senegal to help secure the release of the journalist to prevent further abuse of his rights and a possible fatal outcome,” the MFWA wrote in its petition to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Ms Irene Khan, the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Volker Türk.
The MFWA also petitioned the AU Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information; the Chairperson of the AU Commission; Chairperson of the Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), alongside the ECOWAS Chairman and the President of the ECOWAS Commission. A similar petition was also addressed to the Ambassador and Head of the European Union delegation in Senegal as well as France, United States and United Kingdom Ambassadors in Senegal.
Niang is the managing editor of the privately-owned news website, DakarMatin and a regular panelist on socio-political programmes on radio and television in Dakar. The Senegalese police arrested and detained him on November 3, 2022, on the orders of the public prosecutor, Amady Diouf.
The arrest followed a publication about the trial for rape of a leading opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, in which the journalist cited military sources. In a video published online, Pape Niang read a report which purportedly shows that the military had conducted investigations that absolved the politician from the rape allegation. On November 9, 2022, the judicial authorities granted the police authorisation to continue to keep Niang in detention after formally charging him. He was charged with revealing information likely to undermine national defense, possessing military documents, and disseminating false news likely to discredit public institutions. The journalist has denied the charges.
The MFWA argues in its petition that Pape Niang merely made public the content of a document that has a bearing on the trial of a public figure, which is a matter of public interest.
It also said the authorities have failed to establish their claims of undermining national security to meet international norms for restricting the right to free expression. Citing the United Nations Human Rights Committee (general comment No. 34, para. 35), the MFWA said States invoking public safety or national security reasons to restrict freedom of expression must establish a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the said threat. “Incidentally, the Senegalese public, whose security the government is supposed to be protecting, have mobilised massively in support of the journalist,” the petition said.
The MFWA also cited the deteriorating health of Pape Ale Niang who is on hunger strike and called on the various authorities petitioned to intervene to help secure the journalist’s release. Read the full petition here.