ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by the ongoing restrictions on civic space in Senegal, making the exercise of public freedoms extremely difficult, particularly rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.
According to numerous sources, journalists were prevented from using their phones to cover the defamation trial against opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was convicted in absentia and sentenced to two months’ suspended imprisonment and a fine of two hundred million CFA francs (304,898 euros). The ban prevented the public from having easy and timely access to vital information and made the work of the media, already under pressure in recent days, even more difficult.
On the eve of the trial, security forces fired tear gas at crowds in an attempt to break up a press conference planned by the opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi, resulting in a woman journalist being injured after being hit by a vehicle. Another journalist from Agence France Presse (AFP) was assaulted by security forces while covering a demonstration called by the opposition. Authorities claimed the rally organisers had failed to secure the required authorisation.
According to both judicial sources and the media, over the last 20 days, hundreds of protesters have been arrested, including in Saint Louis, Ziguinchor and Dakar. Authorities provided a range of reasons to charge them, including participation in a prohibited gathering, causing damage or destruction to public and private property, and acts likely to compromise public safety.
It was also reported that following being summoned by the Sûreté Urbaine, a special unit dedicated to judicial investigations, opposition leaders were arrested in several locations, including in the regions of Dakar, Kedougou, Kaolack and Touba in the department of Mbacke. The majority of opposition leaders arrested were cabinet members for the political party PASTEF (Patriotes africains du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité) and most of them currently face judicial proceedings for their views on either the Sonko case, the possible candidacy of the President Macky Sal, or on public governance. They were mainly prosecuted for offences such as disturbing the peace, spreading false news, undermining state security, and defamation.
Reacting to this tense situation, ARTICLE 19 reiterated its call for authorities to respect fundamental rights, including the exercise of public freedoms and the protection of journalists.
‘ARTICLE 19 calls for de-escalation of tensions and concrete measures to be taken to protect journalists and their access to information without obstruction or violence, and to safeguard the right to protest. Security forces must ensure the protection and safety of journalists at all times. They must refrain from using force against any peaceful gathering. We also call for protesters who were arrested for exercising their right to protest to be released without being subjected to any kind of violence,’ said Alfred Bulakali, the Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Senegal and West Africa.
ARTICLE 19 will shortly publish a full statement about recent events in Senegal.
For more information, please contact:
Maateuw Mbaye, Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: firstname.lastname@example.org T: +221785958337
Aissata Diallo Dieng, Office Manager, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: email@example.com T:+221338690322