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Journalist arrested for allegedly offending president; another faces defamation charges after publishing book accusing national lottery employees of embezzlement

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 7 November 2007 IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Wave of Arrests of Senegalese Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on the government of Senegal to put an end to the "oppression" of journalists after the arrest of an editor this morning. This is the fourth arrest of a reporter or editor in the last month for allegedly offending the President or endangering national security.

El Malick Seck, editor of the news website Rewmi.com, was arrested this morning at the headquarters of his company in the city of Thiès by the Division of Criminal Investigation (DIC) who is holding him in Dakar.

"We strongly condemn this wave of trials and brutal arrests," said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa office. "We call on the government to put an end to this oppression against the journalists whose only crime was to have touched on so-called sensitive subjects."

Besides the four arrested journalists, who are all being held in detention, a fifth is facing defamation charges after he published a book that accused employees of embezzling funds from the Senegalese National Lottery.

The DIC has not disclosed the reason for Seck's arrest but sources told the IFJ that it is related to critical comments posted by Internet users on Rewmi.com in reaction to a reprint of an article in L'Observateur newspaper reporting that President Abdoulaye Wade's new limousine had just arrived in Senegal even as the country is in an "economic crisis."

Pape Amadou Gaye, editor of the daily newspaper Le Courrier du jour, was arrested last Thursday by the DIC after the paper published an article on the country's difficult economic situation, which said that the army is the only body able to intervene to resolve the issue. Gaye was charged yesterday for inciting the army to rebel against the institutions, acts prejudicial to the state security and insulting the head of state. He faces five to ten years in prison if convicted.

Moussa Guèye, editor of L'Exclusif, has been in detention since October 8 after the release of an article about the President's "night escapades," which said the President goes out at night but did not say what he did on those trips. Pape Moussa Doukar, a L'Exclusif reporter, was arrested on October 9 on accusations that he wrote the article.

Veteran writer and journalist Abdou Latif Coulibaly is already on trial after the publication of his book revealing the embezzlement of funds in the state-owned national lottery. The lottery and some employees are now suing him for defamation and public slander. The trial started on September 11 but proceedings have been postponed until December 18.

The IFJ is urging the Senegalese government to end its intimidation tactics against journalists, decriminalise defamation and allow media to work freely and independently. It believes that the government should only charge journalists for press offences under the media law and not under the criminal code.

"We are calling on the government to release immediately all the detained journalists and to grant them a fair trial," Baglo said. "We are also calling on the court to throw out any criminal charges against Coulibaly."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries worldwide.

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