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Senegal18 October 2005

Sud FM allowed back on the air, staff freed

The information minister late yesterday announced the reopening of the privately-owned radio station Sud FM, which had been forcibly closed by police in the morning for “endangering state security” after it broadcast an interview with the head of an armed separatist movement in the southern Casamance region.

The minister said Sud FM’s 19 staff members in Dakar and the head of its local station in the southern city of Ziguinchor could be released as “the persons likely to be charged have been detained and questioned.” No complaint has been made against the station. But the authorities seized a video camera and video cassette of the interview with the rebel leader when they raided the station manager’s home in Ziguinchor.

17.10.05 Police close down Sud FM radio network throughout country, arrest staff

Reporters Without Borders roundly condemned the arrests of the staff of the privately-owned radio station Sud FM today and said it was astounded at the show of force by the Senegalese police in going to all of the station’s relays throughout the country in order to close them down. “This arbitrary and brutal police operation is total unacceptable,” the press freedom organisation said. “President Abdoulaye Wade must understand that the spectacle put on by his security forces today is incompatible with a democracy.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Sud FM’s personnel must be freed at once and the authorities must provide clear explanations about their intentions and the legal mechanism that led to this disturbing mechanism. A government may have to resolve a dispute with a news media, but there is never any justification for a police raid and a lack of transparency of the kind used in Sud FM’s closure.”

Sud FM’s studios in Dakar were forcibly closed at around 8:40 a.m. today by police who arrested all those present and took them to the Dakar central police station, where officers in charge refused to comment when Reporters Without Borders later contacted them.

In the course of the morning, the police also arrested a TV crew working for the international station TV5 which had joined a crowd of onlookers outside Sud FM’s studios on Macodou Ndiaye Street, near the port of Dakar. The crew, consisting of reporter Mata Maïga and cameraman Cheikh Sadibou Mané, were released a short while later.

The Sud FM staff has been kept incommunicado ever since their arrest. The French news agency AFP said at least 19 of them were being held at the central police station.

No complaint has been filed against the radio station. But, shortly after the arrests, interior minister Ousamane Ngom insisted that there should be no more broadcasting of an interview with Salif Sadio, one of the leaders of an armed insurrection that has existed in the southern Casamance region since the early 1980s. Ngom also said on Radio Futur Média (RFM) that Sud FM had been closed “in accordance with the law, for endangering state security.”

Sud FM broadcast a long interview with Sadio, the military chief of the Movement of Casamance Democratic Forces (MFDC), in which he said: “I will come home after chasing Senegal out of Casamance.” It was the refusal of Sud FM’s journalists to surrender the recording of the interview to the police that prompted the arrests, one Dakar journalist said.

The Sadio interview was conducted by Ibrahim Gassama, the head of a Sud FM local station in Ziguinchor, a city in Casamance. Fellow journalists said he was being held in the city’s central police station. The interview was broadcast simultaneously by all the Senegalese radio stations belong to the Sud FM network. The head of the station in the northern city of Saint-Louis also received a summons to report to the police, while the five other local stations were closed one after the other in the course of the day. Only the Sud FM station in Banjul, the capital of neighbouring Gambia, is still operating.

The Sud FM independent radio network is one of the most popular in Senegal. It is owned by the privately-owned Sud Communication and has been broadcasting since 1994.

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