Senegal: Arrest of journalist violates vital rights and freedoms

Senegal: Arrest of journalist violates vital rights and freedoms - Media

Senegalese journalist Pape Ale Niang

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the arrest and detention of investigative journalist Pape Alé Niang on Sunday, 6 November, 2022. Niang is being prosecuted for disseminating information of a military nature without authorisation – referred to by the courts as ‘the permission of the hierarchy’ – among other charges. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Senegalese authorities to stop these acts of intimidation and harassment of journalists who are critical of them, to comply with their international obligations to protect freedom of expression and the press, and to acknowledge the vital role robust investigative journalists play in supporting a strong media.  

The accusations against Pape Alé Niang, a journalist and administrator for the Dakarmatin website, include claims that his actions were likely to harm national security and the army or the national defense; that he carried out subversive acts; that these acts amounted to propagating false news; and that he illegally received and disseminated administrative documents that were clearly marked as classified information. Authorities cited Articles 64, 255, 370 and 430 of the Criminal Code as being applicable in his case. 

After three days in police custody, the presiding judge placed Pape Alé Niang under custody. Following a meeting with his lawyers, the Coordination of Association of the Press highlighted that the gendarmerie had not interviewed Niang as part of its internal report process, and the state’s prosecution does not actually relate to the charges for which he was arrested.

‘These acts of intimidation and harassment of voices critical of the government must stop. Instead of arresting and imprisoning the journalist, the authorities should more fully investigate the content of the documents by investigating the serious facts revealed in them. It is unfortunate to witness that the “defence of secrecy” is being used to protect some public institutions. Legislation should better protect journalists so that they can share information in the public interest,’ stated David Diaz-Jogeix, Senior Director of Programmes for ARTICLE 19. 

While protecting national security interests is certainly a legitimate aim, under Senegalese law, it is the grounds for making such a case that are undoubtedly most vulnerable to abuse. As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression A/ HRC/23/40 (at paragraph 60): The use of an amorphous concept of national security to justify invasive limitations on the enjoyment of human rights is of serious concern. The concept is broadly defined and is thus vulnerable to manipulation by the State as a means of justifying actions that target vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders, journalists or activists. It also acts to warrant often unnecessary secrecy around investigations or law enforcement activities, undermining the principles of transparency and accountability.’ 

Accordingly, Principle XIII (2) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa provides that freedom of expression should not be restricted on public order or national security grounds unless there is a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest and there is a close causal link between the risk of harm and the expression.

As ARTICLE 19 has consistently pointed out, justifiable limitations on the right to freedom of expression must meet the criteria of legality, legitimacy and necessity for a legitimate purpose as set out in Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Jurisprudence at the African level has shown us many cases where regional and sub-regional courts on the continent have rendered a number of decisions in which the courts have applied the three-part test and ultimately found an unjustifiable limitation on the right to freedom of expression. This is the case in Konaté v. Burkina Faso, where the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that the right to freedom of expression under Article 9 of the African Charter was unjustifiably violated by certain aspects of the criminal defamation law, in particular the provisions that imposed a prison sentence. 

As part of an initiative by media organisations in Senegal, including Association des Professionnels de la Presse En Ligne (APPEL) and Coordinaton des Associations de la Presse(CAP) , ARTICLE 19 participated in a press conference on 14 November, 2022 with other civil society organisations to call for the release of Pape Alé Niang and to put in place a plan of action for the release of all those arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression and for the repeal or modification of restrictive laws in Senegal.

For more information, please contact:

Maateuw Mbaye, Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: [email protected] 

T: +221785958337

Aissata Diallo Dieng, Office Manager, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: [email protected]