Friday, May 15, 2009

SENEGAL: PRESIDENT PARDONS EDITOR CONVICTED OF DEFAMATION


SENEGAL: PRESIDENT PARDONS EDITOR CONVICTED OF DEFAMATION

A Senegalese editor who was serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence
for defaming leading government officials has been pardoned, report the
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Writers in Prison Committee of
International PEN (WiPC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

El Malick Seck, editor of the Dakar daily "24 Heures Chrono", was freed
eight months into his sentence on 24 April following a Presidential pardon.

Seck was arrested in August 2008 only hours after writing an editorial that
alleged President Wade and his son Karim, a special adviser, were involved
in a money laundering scheme. He was handed a three-year jail term for
offending the head of state, publishing false news and threatening public
order. "24 Heures Chrono" was suspended for three months for the same
offence.

Then on 23 December, Seck was sentenced to a further six months in prison
for defaming Interior Minister Sheikh Tidiane Sy and ordered to pay
US$66,600 in damages.

Seck and his paper are no strangers to government harassment. In yet
another defamation case, Seck and another "24 Heures Chrono" colleague were
sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term sentence, allegedly for
defaming the Ministry of Culture.

According to WiPC, Senegal is one of Africa's worst offenders for
prosecuting journalists on criminal defamation charges, with about 20 such
cases brought against journalists every year. Courts frequently hand down
disproportionate rulings, often consisting of both custodial sentences and
heavy fines. But in the recent past journalists have rarely gone to prison.

President Abdoulaye Wade pledged to repeal criminal penalties for press
offences, including defamation in 2004, but, says WiPC, "the use of
criminal defamation laws against journalists, including those providing for
'insulting the President', appears to have increased in recent years." WiPC
urges the President to review Senegal's defamation laws and fulfil his
promise to decriminalise press offences.

Visit these links:
- Journalist El Malick Seck pardoned (MFWA):
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102674/
- Editor El Malick Seck released (WiPC): http://tinyurl.com/q3kehw
- Le journaliste El Malick Seck libéré (RSF):
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30921



From International PEN

SENEGAL: Editor El Malick Seck released


The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) welcomes the news that 24 Heures Chrono editor El Malick Seck, who was serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for "offending the head of state" and defaming a government minister, has been released from prison. Seck was reportedly freed on 24 April 2009 following a presidential pardon. The WiPC commends the release but reminds President Wade that Seck has apparently spent eight months in jail for exercising his right to freedom of expression. It urges the President to review Senegal's defamation laws and fulfil his promise to decriminalise press offences.


El Malick Seck, editor of the Dakar daily 24 Heures Chrono, was arrested on 28 August 2008 and sentenced to three years in prison on charges of offending the head of state, publishing false news and threatening public order on 12 September 2008. The charges reportedly stemmed from an editorial that alleged that President Wade and his son Karim, a special adviser, were involved in laundering money stolen from a bank in the Ivory Coast. Seck's arrest followed an attack on the premises of 24 Heures Chrono and another newspaper in mid-August 2008, days after the then Transport Minister Farba Senghor threatened retaliation against the papers for publishing critical stories. Government officials were allegedly involved in the attack.

On 23 December 2008, Seck was sentenced to a further six months in prison for defaming Interior Minister Sheikh Tidiane Sy and ordered to pay approx. US$66,600 in damages. In yet another defamation case against Seck another 24 Heures Chrono journalist by the Ministry of Culture's secretary general, Pape Massène Sène, the two men were each sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and a FCFA 250,000 fine.

Seck's appeal against the original convection was rejected on 23 February 2009 and the sentence upheld. However, he was reportedly released on 24 April following a presidential pardon. He had spent a total of eight months in prison.

Background

Senegal is one of Africa's worst offenders in terms of criminal defamation prosecutions, with some 20 such cases brought against journalists every year. Courts frequently hand down disproportionate rulings, often consisting of both custodial sentences and heavy fines, although in the recent past journalists have rarely gone to prison.

President Abdoulaye Wade pledged to repeal criminal penalties for press offences, including defamation in 2004, but there has been no progress since. Indeed, the use of criminal defamation laws against journalists, including those providing for ‘insulting the President', appears to have increased in recent years.

For more information, see the WiPC's report Free Expression, Corruption and Criminal Defamation in Africa published in January 2008, available in English or French.


Please send appeals:

  • Welcoming the presidential pardon and release of El Malick Seck, editor of the Dakar daily 24 Heures Chrono, who was serving a three-and-a-half year prison sentence for "offending the head of state" and defaming a government minister;
  • However, reminding President Wade that Seck has served eight months in jail on convictions that were apparently in violation of his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Senegalese Constitution, as well as by the African Union's African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Senegal is party;
  • Urging the President to review Senegal's defamation laws and any criminal restrictions on content, in line with his 2004 promise to decriminalise press offences and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

Appeals to:

President of the Republic of Senegal
His Excellency President Abdoulaye Wade
Office of the President, Avenue Aoume, Dakar, Republic of Senegal, West Africa
Fax: + 221 33 823 1702
Salutation: Dear President Wade

Please also send appeals to diplomatic representatives of Senegal in your country.
(see http://www.diplomatie.gouv.sn/representations_diplomatiques.php?idsmenu=17&idmenu=4)

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with the WiPC if sending appeals after 8 July 2009.***

For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email: tamsin.mitchell@internationalpen.org.uk


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