Press freedom is no longer assured in Senegal. Traditionally cited as an example of respect for the right to free expression, the country took a disturbing turn in 2003. Several journalists were physically attacked, others were threatened and a foreign correspondent was expelled.
President Abdoulaye Wade got tough with the local and international press. He was directly responsible for the expulsion of a Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent in October 2003. At the same time, a journalist received death threats after publishing a book criticising him.
Other government leaders also put pressure on the news media. In September, for example, the attorney-general said recent news reports were "liable to cause affront to the president’s dignity" and warned that such offences could be punished under Senegal’s criminal law.
The media reacted by reiterating their sense of responsibility and respect for professional ethics. Local organisations that defend freedom of expression condemned the "escalation in violations of press freedom in Senegal." The Committee for Respect of Professional Ethics (CRED) meanwhile warned on several occasions that the Senegalese press was violating professional ethics with increasing frequency.
The year was also marked by turmoil within the state news media. What with union unrest and accusations of biased coverage, the state radio and TV broadcaster RTS became the subject of intense debate. The opposition Alliance of Forces of Progress (AFP) accused the government and ruling Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) in June of manipulating the state media in order to wage "a permanent electoral campaign." A month later, the High Council for Broadcasting (HCA) accused the RTS of bias during a general strike when it "just gave the justice ministry’s version."
A journalist expelled
Sophie Malibeaux, the correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Dakar, was detained on 7 October in the southern town of Ziguinchor and flown to Dakar, where the interior ministry told her an order had been issued for her expulsion. The authorities formally accused her of "tendentious" coverage of the two-decades-old separatist rebellion in the southern Casamance region. Several local journalists’ organisations voiced support for her on 12 October. Malibeaux remained in custody until the moment she entered the Dakar airport departure lounge on 24 October to leave the country. In an interview for the French daily Le Figaro in November, President Wade said that, by interviewing "a hotel revolutionary" who called for a boycott of peace negotiations, Malibeaux had "objectively supported the sabotage attempt, which fortunately did not succeed."
Five journalists physically attacked
Police with the Mobile Intervention Group (GMI) attacked El Hadj Ibrahima Fall of the daily newspaper L’Info 7, burning his notebook and breaking his camera, as he was covering the eviction of sculptors from Soumbedioune handicraft market in Dakar on the night of 23 January 2003. Fall suffered multiple bruising and damage to his left ear. The Com 7 press group filed a complaint with the state prosecutor, calling the attack "a barbarous act."
Radio Manoré FM reporters Fanta Badji and Cira Konate were attacked on 20 March while covering GMI operations to "rehouse" the residents of a Dakar neighbourhood. Two days later, the Senegal News and Communication Professionals Union (Synpics), called on the authorities to distance themselves from police brutality towards journalists and to do everything possible to ensure that journalists could work safely.
Karim Diouf, a correspondent for the community radio station Oxy-Jeunes in the Dakar suburb of Rufisque, was beaten by the henchmen of mayor Ndiawar Touré on 20 May for allegedly defaming the mayor in a report. Diouf filed a complaint.
Mame Maty Fall of the privately-owned radio station Walfadjri FM was physically attacked by a prison guard at the Dakar regional court on 20 November when she tried to interview a detainee as he came out of an investigating judge’s office.
A journalist threatened
Journalist Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the manager of radio Sud FM, received repeated death threats in phone calls to his home and office at the end of July 2003. A book by Coulibaly - criticising the president and entitled "Wade, an opponent in power: hope of change dashed" - had been published on 12 July. He filed a complaint on 31 July accusing persons unknown of "insults and death threats." His lawyer claimed that the threats came from members of the ruling party.
Harassment and obstruction
The editors of the privately-owned dailies Walfadjri and Le Quotidien were summoned to the gendarmerie of the Dakar district of Colobane on 15 October and questioned about their coverage of an attack on Talla Sylla, the leader of the opposition Jëf Jël Alliance, on the night of 5 October in which Sylla was struck several times with a hammer. Both newspapers had reported that certain clues pointed straight to the presidential guard. Neither of the two editors was detained or charged.