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Dakar newspaper editor gets three years in prison for libelling president, newspaper suspended for three months

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges President Abdoulaye Wade to quickly embark on a thorough overhaul of Senegal's press legislation after El Malick Seck, the editor of the Dakar-based daily "24 Heures Chrono", was sentenced to three years in prison on 12 September 2008 for an article claiming that the president was involved in money laundering.

"This sentence reflects all the unfairness and absurdity of Senegal's law on press offenses," Reporters Without Borders said. "The alleged libel is in no way redressed by imposing a very severe sentence and now the government has a political prisoner on its hands. As a result of refusing to recognise that imprisonment is not the appropriate response in cases such as this, the authorities must now cope with the consequences of a repressive and dangerous system."

The press freedom organisation advises the government to do everything necessary to have Seck released and then quickly draw up a timetable for reforming the press law and creating an independent media regulatory body in consultation with representative journalists.

Seck was convicted on charges of "activity liable to disrupt public order and cause serious political unrest," "disseminating false news," "public insult" and "illegal possession of government documents." His newspaper, which had initially been allowed to resume publishing after his arrest, was suspended by order of the court for three months.

Seck was arrested on 28 August just hours after "24 Heures Chrono" ran a vaguely-sourced story claiming that President Wade and his son, Karim, had been involved in the laundering of money stolen in Côte d'Ivoire.

"24 Heures Chrono" was one of the two privately-owned newspapers whose premises were attacked in mid-August by men driving a government car, who smashed computers and sprayed tear-gas on employees.

On 11 September, twelve men were given sentences ranging from five to six years in prison for these raids, which - some of them said - were "punitive operations" ordered by the newly-dismissed air transport minister, Farba Senghor.

Updates the Seck case:

For further information on the newspaper raids see:

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