TV channel suspended, Internet access restricted amid violence protests in Senegal
Political unrest and violence in Senegal must not be used as grounds for restricting the right to report the news, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), condemning a TV channel’s 48-hour suspension, restrictions on access to the Internet and social media, and the ransacking of a journalism school amid widespread violent protests on 1st June.
RSF urges the Senegalese authorities to restore the Internet, as it is a news and information conduit that is essential for journalistic work and for defusing tension and violence of the kind seen in the capital, Dakar, and other cities in response to the two-year prison sentence imposed on 1st June on opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in connection with an alleged sexual assault.
The privately-owned Walfadjri TV channel has been off the air since yesterday evening, when its signal was cut as it was broadcasting a special programme about the violent protests. The broadcasting ban is due to last 48 hours.
Access to the Internet and social media has also been drastically restricted since yesterday, as many journalists have reported. Members of the KeepitOn coalition, which monitors Internet cuts worldwide, have reported problems connecting with WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram via the Orange and Tigo networks.
"Deliberately disconnecting Walfadjri TV’s signal and restricting access to the Internet and social media are flagrant violations of the freedom to report the news and the public’s right to information. Urgent reforms are needed to Senegal’s press law. We call on the authorities to end these draconian suspensions and to guarantee press freedom and the safety of journalists, whose reporting is more necessary than ever during this unrest.
The president of the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) said he was not responsible for the disconnection of Walfadjri TV’s signal – the third since 2021.
At a press conference yesterday evening, the interior minister defended the decision to disconnect Walfadjri TV and restrict access to social media, reminding the media of “the importance of respecting the Press Law,” one of whose articles allows “the administrative authority to prevent or put an end to any attack on state security, the integrity of the national territory or any case of incitement to hatred.”
Ibrahima Lissa Faye, the head of the Association of Online Press Professionals (APPEL) and director of the Pressafrik news website, told RSF that articles in Senegal’s Press Law that allow administrative authorities to suspend media are “dangerous,” “anachronistic” and “oppressive.” He also said the restrictions on access to certain social media constitute “a serious attack on democracy” and that the latest disconnection of Walfadjri TV’s signal is “an abuse of authority, pure and simple.”
Yesterday's protests did not spare the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, where the premises of the public school of journalism were ransacked, and at least two of its personnel’s vehicles were torched, according to Mamadou Ndiaye, the director of the Centre for Studies in Information Science and Technology (CESTI). The attack stunned Dakar’s journalists, and many condemned it.
The two-year prison sentence imposed yesterday on Senegal’s opposition leader exacerbated a climate of tension that has been dominating the run-up to next year’s presidential election, in which the current president, Macky Sall, has not yet said whether he plans to seek a third term.
For the past year, journalists and media have increasingly been subjected to various kinds of harassment restricting their right to report the news. On 8 June 2022, opposition party members prevented a crew from the privately-owned Groupe Futurs Médias TV channel from covering their preparations for a rally in in Dakar. The following month, as RSF reported at the time, hackers managed to replace the front pages of five Senegalese newspapers with political propaganda messages on social media.
Investigative reporter Pape Alé Niang spent nearly two months in prison in late 2022 and early 2023. Walfadjri TV crime reporter Pape Ndiaye has been detained since 7 March 2023. Serigne Saliou Gueye, the publisher of the Yoor-Yoor Bi daily newspaper, has been in prison since 26 May and several reporters have been subjected to violence while covering protests.