English PEN 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. English PEN commends the release but reminds President Wade that Seck has apparently spent eight months in jail for exercising his right to freedom of expression. We are urging 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.
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.
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.
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 copies of your appeal to the Senegalese Embassy in the UK:
His Excellency Mr Abdou Sourang
39 Marloes Road
Fax: 020 7938 2546
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/senegaleditorelmalickseckreleased/