Editor El Malick Seck Released
International PEN welcomes the news that 24 Heures Chrono editor El Malick Seck, who was serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for “offending the head of state” and defaming a government minister, has been released from prison. Seck was reportedly freed on April 24, 2009, after receiving a presidential pardon. PEN commends his release but reminds President Wade that Seck apparently spent eight months in jail for exercising his right to freedom of expression. PEN urges the president to review Senegal’s defamation laws and fulfill his promise to decriminalize press offenses.
El Malick Seck, editor of the Dakar daily 24 Heures Chrono, was arrested on August 28, 2008. On September 12, 2008, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of offending the head of state, publishing false news, and threatening public order. The charges reportedly stemmed from an editorial alleging that President Wade and his son Karim, a special adviser, were involved in laundering money that had been stolen from a bank in the Ivory Coast. Seck’s arrest followed an attack on the premises of 24 Heures Chrono and another newspaper in mid-August 2008, days after then-Transport Minister Farba Senghor threatened retaliation against the papers for publishing stories that were critical of the government. Senegalese officials were allegedly involved in the attack.
On December 23, 2008, Seck was sentenced to a further six months in prison for allegedly defaming Interior Minister Sheikh Tidiane Sy and was ordered to pay approximately US$66,600 in damages. The Ministry of Culture's secretary general, Pape Massène Sène, brought yet another defamation case against Seck and another journalist at 24 Heures Chrono. Both men were sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and a FCFA 250,000 fine.
Seck’s appeal against his original conviction was rejected on February 23, 2009, and his sentence was upheld. However, he was reportedly released on April 24, 2009, after receiving a presidential pardon. Seck spent a total of eight months in prison.
Senegal is one of Africa’s worst offenders in terms of criminal defamation prosecutions, with some 20 such cases brought against journalists every year. Courts frequently hand down disproportionate rulings, often consisting of both custodial sentences and heavy fines. However, in recent history, few journalists have gone to prison.
President Abdoulaye Wade pledged to repeal criminal penalties for press offenses including defamation in 2004, but he has made no progress on his promises since then. Indeed, the use of criminal defamation laws against journalists, including those of “insulting the president,” appears to have increased in recent years.
Write A Letter
- Welcoming the presidential pardon and release of El Malick Seck, editor of the Dakar daily 24 Heures Chrono, who was serving a three-and-a-half year prison sentence for “offending the head of state” and defaming a government minister;
- Reminding President Wade that Seck has served eight months in jail on convictions that violated his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Senegalese Constitution, as well as by the African Union’s African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Senegal is party;
- Urging the president to review Senegal’s defamation laws and any criminal restrictions on content, in line with his 2004 promise to decriminalize press offenses and with the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
Send Your Letter To
President of the Republic of Senegal
His Excellency President Abdoulaye Wade
Office of the President
Dakar, Republic of Senegal
Fax: + 221 33 823 1702
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representatives of Senegal in your country if possible.
Please check with PEN if sending appeals after July 8, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org