Reporters Without Borders has written to President Abdoulaye Wade about the ransacking of the premises of two Dakar-based dailies - L'As and 24 heures - on the night of 17 August amid mounting tension between the privately-owned press and Farba Senghor, the minister of handicraft and air transport.
The letter asks President Wade to “do everything possible to ensure that the situation improves and that those responsible for these illegal actions are punished.”
HE Abdoulaye Wade
President of the Republic
Avenue Leopold Sedar Senghor
PO Box 4026
Paris, 19 August 2008
Dear Mr. President,
Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to a battle between your government's handicraft and air transport minister, Farba Senghor, and a number of privately-owned newspapers based in Dakar. The conflict was until recently limited to verbal threats, but it reached alarming proportions on the night of 17 August and could have serious consequences if nothing is done to defuse it. We therefore urge you, as guarantor of civil peace and the rule of law, to intervene.
Around 10 men armed with knives and teargas grenades raided the premises of the privately-owned dailies L'As and 24 heures in the residential neighbourhood of Sacré-Coeur 3 Polytechnique on the night of 17 August, destroying equipment and material used to produce the newspapers. The men arrived in a 4WD vehicle with an “AD” number plate of the kind reserved for government vehicles.
The unacceptable ransacking of these privately-owned properties followed verbal threats against these newspapers by Farba Senghor. After they published information about his private life, Mr. Senghor told the media that he “reserved the right to respond in a manner equal to the attacks.”
Relations between Mr. Senghor and much of the privately-owned press have worsened considerably in recent weeks after the situation was poisoned by a series of incidents and acts of intimidation. On 27 July, for example, Mr. Senghor called on government ministers and other officials to “stop buying newspapers considered overly hostile to the government.” At the same time, he promised the newspapers “a tax adjustment.”
Government departments and agencies were instructed the same day to stop buying advertising space from these newspapers. Walf TV presenter Pape Ngagne Ndiaye claimed on 1 August that Mr. Senghor threatened him after he was asked if he was going to marry one of his assistants. The Walf Grand Place newspaper reported on 8 August that the minister had instructed his aides to stop sending the weather forecasts they had traditionally provided to several newspapers.
These incidents come after a difficult year for Senegal's journalists in which several of them were summoned for questioning at the headquarters of the plain-clothes police and cases of police violence against journalists went unpunished.
We are aware that disputes can occur between government officials and the privately-owned press in a democracy without causing particular concern, and that the defence of rights and freedoms requires restraint and professionalism on all sides. But, while there are bodies that regulate the media, only the president is capable of restoring order in the public administration and within the government in particular.
When certain newspapers publish reports about a minister's private life, a collective self-examination may be required on the part of the media. But passing from verbal abuse to physical violence is not acceptable especially when, as in this case, the person under suspicion is a government minister who should, in theory, put the public interest first and behave in an exemplary manner.
We therefore think it is important that, in Senegal's interest, you should do everything possible to ensure that the situation improves and that those responsible for these illegal actions are punished.
We thank you in advance for giving this matter your careful consideration.