The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), representing over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries around the world, today condemned the harassment of Sophie Malibeaux, permanent correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Dakar, Senegal and the numerous violations of press freedom in this country.
On 7 October 2003, Sophie Malibeaux was summoned for questioning in Ziguinchor (Southern Senegal), where she was covering a meeting of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), an armed independence group. She was forcibly taken to Dakar on a special flight. After being held for hours in the premises of the Interior Ministry, the RFI correspondent was notified about an order to expel her from Senegalese territory for “reasons of public order”. The execution of the order was however differed.
According to a statement issued by the Interior Ministry on 7 October, “the concerned is accused of trying to sabotage the peace process launched by the government, through a partisan treatment of the Casamance issue, during a MFDC meeting held in Ziguinchor (…)”. The Secretary General of the Interior Ministry on Senegalese Radio and Television (RTS) announced the accusation that same evening.
“This public campaign, undertaken by a minister in office, is absolutely unacceptable,” said Aidan White, IFJ Secretary General. “The direct threats against the RFI journalist simply serves to intensify the flagrant destabilisation and intimidation campaign against a foreign correspondent, in order to conceal a journalist's work,” he added.
The IFJ is backing professional organisations in Senegal, which state that in her coverage of the MFDC meeting, the RFI correspondent did not commit any breach of the journalists' code of ethics. The IFJ reiterates their appeal for the definitive closure of this case and denounces the humiliating and degrading treatment to which Sophie Malibeaux was subjected.
“The Malibeaux case is fraught with threats for journalists of the region, judging from the escalation of the blows recently dealt to freedom of expression. Senegal still has laws that destroy freedom which have not been used by the authorities so far, but which henceforth places journalists in a 'temporary release' position,” said White.
The Public Prosecutor at the Dakar Court of Appeal issued a release on 12 September 2003 recalling the provisions of the Criminal Code and listing acts classified as breach of press law, and the corresponding criminal penalty. He specifically mentioned Article 255 of the Criminal Code which provides for a "three-year imprisonment sentence and a fine worth between 100 000 and 1 500 000 francs » for «spreading (…) false news (…) when it (…) affects the population's morale or discredits public institutions or their functioning » (see the article below).
The Public Prosecutor however omits to mention another article of the Criminal Procedure Code (Article 139) which stipulates that "at the written demand of the prosecution, the examining judge is required to issue a warrant for detention" against any person charged on the basis of article 255 and this person shall not be released if the prosecutor is opposed to it. The strict application of these two articles thus compels the judge to maintain a journalist in detention on the basis of a simple written request by the prosecution.
The IFJ calls for the immediate deletion of these provisions of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and urges the Senegalese authorities to immediately and firmly put an end to the repeated attacks against journalists and press freedom.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries