In light of the recent arrest of journalist Pape Sane, ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the crackdown on journalists, the media and the right to voice opinions in Senegal. ARTICLE 19 has documented Sane’s case, along with several other cases in which journalists and activists have been imprisoned under Article 255 of the Senegalese penal code and face charges of spreading false news. We call on Senegalese authorities to repeal these provisions, which stifle freedom of expression and press freedom, and urge them to refrain from prosecuting journalists for performing their duties.
Pape Sane’s prosecution for allegedly ‘spreading false news’ is based on an article he posted on Facebook entitled ‘Les Sénégalais ne vous oublieront jamais’ (‘The Senegalese will never forget you’). The article, which Sane published in 2021, paid tribute to General Tine, Commander of the National Gendarmerie, who he said was dismissed without being given the opportunity to say goodbye to his unit. The incident took place following a period of unrest and protests prompted by the arrest of opposition figure Ousmane Sonko.
Responding to recent events, Alfred Nkuru Bulakali, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Senegal and West Africa, said:
‘Democracy needs critical journalism and plurality of voices and information. We urge the authorities of Senegal to release the journalist Pape Sane unconditionally and to abandon all the charges. Arresting a journalist for simply expressing a critical opinion pushes the media toward self-censorship, thus limiting the public’s right to information and freedom of press. Instead of cracking down on free speech, authorities should promote high levels of tolerance for different opinions about their actions and conduct, including critical ones. They should also foster a culture of transparency and a pluralistic and independent media environment to ensure that a plurality of information and opinions is provided to the public.’
Pape Sane joins the long list of individuals prosecuted for allegedly spreading false news since June 2023. ARTICLE 19 reiterates its call to repeal Article 255 of the penal code.
International human rights law, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides that any restriction on freedom of expression must:
- Be prescribed by law;
- Pursue one or more legitimate objectives ; and
- Be necessary (requiring that there must be a pressing social need for the restriction) and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.
Article 255 fails to meet this three-part test. The term ‘false news’ is very broad, vague, and open to different interpretations. To meet the legality requirement, definitions in criminal laws should provide as much clarity as possible by elaborating in detail exactly what is prohibited.
Article 255 thus grants excessive discretionary power to those responsible for enforcing the law. Those subject to the law need to be able to regulate their conduct with certainty.
Restrictions on freedom of expression on the basis of a mere falsity or a misleading nature of certain information will also not meet the requirements of legitimate interest.
However, Article 255 does not specify any actual and measurable harm to the legitimate interests listed in Article 19 of the ICCPR, as it is impossible to ascertain whether the morale of the population has been affected or if public institutions have been discredited, and ignores that discrediting public institutions and affecting the morale of the population can be achieved through legitimate reporting on matters of public interest. There is also an evident risk in empowering government authorities to decide whether such reporting is ‘true,’ providing them with a powerful tool to silence dissent.
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] T: +221338690322