The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the arrest of four journalists from the online news outlet Allô Sénégal and calls on the Senegalese authorities to unconditionally release them.
On November 11, 2023, officers of the Senegalese Police’s Criminal Investigations Division (DIC) arrested six journalists namely, news presenter Ndèye Astou Bâ, columnist Papa El Hadji Omar Yally, camera operator Daouda Sow, manager Maniane Sène Lô, reporter Mamadou Lamine Dièye, and technician Moussa Diop.
The journalists were arrested from the premises of the media outlet in Thiés (72 km east of Dakar) and detained on charges of defamation, public insults, and impersonating a journalist. They were also charged with incitement to the crime of murder without effect for claiming in an online video broadcast that the penalty for alleged adultery by a Minister of State under Islamic law should be death.
The arrests followed a complaint by Senegal’s minister of tourism, Mame Mbaye Kan Niang regarding a news broadcast by the online media outlet which discussed an alleged extramarital affair involving the Minister. The discussion was based on a viral video allegedly implicating Mr Niang in an affair that has reportedly resulted in him impregnating two sisters. During the broadcast, Yally, Bâ, and Sow described allegations of adultery against Niang as ironic, given the Minister’s alleged comments about the controversial rape charge against opposition politician Ousmane Sonko.
According to Senegal’s penal code, the charges of impersonating a journalist and defamation are each punishable by up to two years imprisonment. The charge of public insult is punishable by a two-month sentence. A conviction of advocating for the crime of murder could carry a three-year prison sentence, while incitement to the crime of murder carries up to five years imprisonment.
While awaiting their trial, Ndèye Astou Bâ was transferred to Liberté 6’s women’s prison while Papa El Hadji Omar Yally, Daouda Sow, and Maniane Sène Lô were sent to Rebeuss prison, both in Dakar. Mamadou Lamine Dièye and Moussa Diop, who were not at the offices when the programme about Niang was recorded, were charged with usurpation of the position of a journalist and released under judicial supervision.
Niang’s lawyer, Me Ousmane Thiam expressed his indignation pointing out that his client, although innocent, was being subjected to a campaign of defamation seeking to damage his reputation and that of his family. He called for strict application of the law to punish these attacks on the honour and consideration of citizens.
On November 12, 2023, Allô Sénégal issued an apology to Niang and removed the report citing that the report was inaccurate.
While the MFWA regrets the inaccurate comments made about Mr Niang and its derogatory effect on the integrity of the minister, we urge the complainant to drop the case against the journalists, especially given the apology and retraction by the media organisation of the accused. Nonetheless, the pre-trial arrest and detention of the journalists for alleged defamation is regressive in a democratic country. We, therefore, urge the Senegalese authorities to decriminalize press offences. The MFWA also calls on the media in Senegal to observe the highest standards of professionalism, especially as the country moves towards elections in a few months.