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Newspaper editor gets six months in prison for defaming president's chief of staff

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is very disappointed by the six-month jail sentence which a Dakar court has imposed on Abdourahmane Diallo, the editor of the "Express News" daily, for defaming President Abdoulaye Wade's chief of staff, Pape Samba Mboup. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Diallo who was tried in absentia but has not yet been detained.

"There are two distinct aspects to this matter," Reporters Without Borders said. "One is whether the newspaper was in the wrong. The other is what penalty should be imposed. It is clear that the comments published by 'Express News', which let itself be used in an exchange of insults between political rivals, were defamatory. But does that mean its editor has to go to prison?"

The press freedom organisation added: "This sentence is inappropriate, unjust and counter-productive. To prevent this kind of incident from recurring, the media law needs to be quickly amended in order to decriminalise press offences, something we have been urging the Senegalese authorities to do for years."

The Dakar criminal court that had tried Diallo in absentia finally issued its verdict on 26 August 2010, after two postponements. It imposed a six-month jail term on the editor, together with a suspended sentence of an additional 18 months in prison, and ordered the newspaper to pay Mboup 20 million CFA francs (30,000 euros) in damages. The court also ordered the local press to publish its decision.

Diallo did not appear in court and some local journalists claimed that he never received a summons to appear. The newspaper's lawyer said he would appeal on the grounds that the verdict was issued in the absence of the defendants.

The case was brought over comments about Mboup that "Express News" published on 23 and 24 June. The source was a group of young ruling party members who support Farba Senghor, the head of a faction opposed Mboup, but the newspaper published them as if they were statements of fact.

The newspaper's front-page headline on 23 June was: "Pape Samba Mboup is a political mercenary still in the pay of the person with full pockets." The next day it ran the headline: "Mboup is seen as a permanent danger for the regime and violates state secrets." It added: "Pape Samba Mboup is a drunkard and a conspirator, and is not credible."

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