Arrested on 6 November, released on 14 December and then rearrested six days later, Niang is currently hospitalised as a result of going on hunger strike and his health is beginning to deteriorate.
The 78 journalists calling for his immediate release and the withdrawal of the spurious charges brought against him include such leading African media figures as Pape Saine, the co-publisher of the Gambian newspaper The Point, Seidik Abba, an analyst and specialist in African issues working for international media, Hopewell Chin’ono, a well-known Zimbabwean investigative reporter, and Ignace Sossou, a Beninese journalist with Benin Web TV who was unjustly jailed for six months.
The appeal has also been signed and is being actively supported by such journalists’ rights organisations as the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).
This appeal is an act of solidarity with our colleague Pape Alé Niang. It is remarkable that so many leading African media names are supporting this appeal, a message that must be heard by the Senegalese authorities. These repeated arrests constitute a flagrant violation of the Senegalese constitution. As a result of his arrests and his hunger strike, Pape Alé Niang’s physical condition is now very worrying, as is the decline in respect for press freedom in Senegal.
Addressed to the Senegal’s political and judicial authorities, the appeal underlines the importance of the freedom to report the news in Senegal, a country long renowned for its media pluralism and its respect for the press. In a democratic country, the media must not be subjected to attacks and intimidation.
Charged with revealing information “likely to harm national defence,” “receiving confidential administrative and military documents” and disseminating “false news likely to discredit state institutions,” Niang was returned to prison on 20 December.
At his inauguration in 2012, President Macky Sall nonetheless pledged that no journalist would ever be imprisoned while he was running the country.
Senegal is ranked 73rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, 24 places lower than in 2021.
The appeal of the 78
“PAPE ALÉ NIANG HAS NO PLACE BEING IN PRISON”
“We, journalists from the African continent, are alarmed by the plight of our colleague Pape Alé Niang and are very concerned about the consequences of his imprisonment on his health, on press freedom and on the right of all citizens to news and information. We therefore call on the Senegalese authorities to free him.
Pape Alé Niang’s release by the justice system will end a serious violation of the principles of press freedom in a country that has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and recognises the right to information and the right to express oneself and disseminate one’s opinions.
Unless the judicial authorities want the international community to think that they seek to silence Pape Alé Niang and limit the right of Senegal’s citizens to be informed, they must free him at once and drop all charges against him.
His imprisonment highlights the existence of other challenges for the media in Senegal, once a press freedom flagship in Africa. We point out that, despite the existence of a bill, Senegal lacks a law on access to information, which prevents journalists and citizens from accessing state-held information. It is time to remedy this without delay and to amend the Press Code in order to decriminalise press offences.
We remind the Senegalese authorities that journalists, including Pape Alé Niang, provide information about matters of public interest. Senegal prides itself on being a democracy and journalism is a cornerstone of democracy. It is anachronistic in a democracy such as Senegal to put a journalist in prison.
Senegal was ranked 49th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index but it fell to 73rd place in the 2022 Index. We would not like to see it fall any further.