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Cablegate: Senegal: Threats Against Freedom of Expression

VZCZCXRO9717
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHDK #2258/01 3230953
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 190953Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAKAR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9610
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DAKAR 002258

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, DRL AND INR/AA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL SG
SUBJECT: SENEGAL: THREATS AGAINST FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

REF: A) DAKAR 2122

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Recently four journalists, Moussa Gueye, Moussa Doucar
(REF A), Pape Amadou Gaye, and Elhadj Malick Seck were all arrested
and later ordered released by President Abdoulaye Wade in the face
of serious pressure from the union of journalists and public
opinion. Gaye, editor-in-chief of "Le Courrier du Jour," was
arrested for publishing an article inviting the army to take a
position on Senegal's socio-economic situation. Elhadj Malick Seck
was arrested for posting on his website, rewmi.com, a newspaper
article criticizing Wade for having used state funds to buy a new
limousine from China while many Senegalese cannot make ends meet.
While avoiding a confrontation with the media, the move rekindled a
debate on an article in Senegal's Criminal Code that allows the
state to detain journalists for offense deemed to be "propaganda
against state security." END SUMMARY.

ARMY AND POLITICS
-----------------

2. (SBU) Senegal's determinedly apolitical armed forces were for the
first time ever allowed to vote in February 2007, highlighting an
underlying fear amongst the country's political leaders that the
military could be tempted to interfere in politics if the right
context presents itself. This fear is based on the prevalent notion
that the Senegalese people would support a military takeover if
politicians fail to make democratic institutions work. So when
Amadou Gaye echoed that notion in his attempt to prompt the GOS to
do something about the high cost of living, he was promptly charged
with conducting "activities likely to cause military disobedience,"
and "undermine state security." If convicted of these charges he
could have been sentenced from five to ten years in jail. Although
Gaye's case was in the hands of an examining judge, President Wade
ordered him released for purely political reasons (after, arguably,
having had him arrested for purely political reasons).

INTERNET AND STATE SECURITY
---------------------------

3. (SBU) One of the brightest areas of development in Senegal's
democracy has been the use of Internet to disseminate news, post
videos, and to air dissenting opinions. Two of the country's most
popular websites are Rewmi and Seneweb. When Rewmi.com reproduced
an article about Wade's purchasing a new limousine the webmaster,
Elhadj Malick Seck, was arrested as the GOS claimed to be concerned
about comments from some bloggers who not only insulted Wade but
also incited people to burn the SUVs that he has bought for the
country's parliamentarians. Some bloggers, even demanded that Wade
face charges of "high treason" for mismanaging public resources in
times of economic hardship.

SELF-CENSORSHIP
----------------

4. (SBU) Article 70 of Senegal's Criminal Code prevents the
mentioning of the Army when critiquing the government. It
stipulates that anybody who in peacetime demoralizes the army with
the goal of "inciting it to disobey the Head of State, Chief of
Armed forces" will be punished by a sentence ranging from five to
ten years. Article 248 of the same Code targets "crimes committed
through all means of broadcasting and dissemination of news."
Furthermore, Article 139 stipulates that a prosecutor can demand and
obtain the immediate detention of any journalist charged on the
basis of the above-mentioned articles. Such laws have resulted in
journalists practicing self-censorship as they are well aware that
the Minister of Justice can instruct a prosecutor to detain them at
anytime. In the past two years, the GOS and the media have held
several talks regarding the elimination of the aforementioned laws.
The GOS has proposed eliminating prison sentences to replace them
with fines, but media leaders fear that the State will bankrupt them
through the abuse of fines. They thus prefer to go to jail with the
hope that peer pressure and public opinion will force the government
to set them free.

COMMENT
-------

5. (SBU) As in any democratic and free country, the media in
Senegal are both a source of information and a battle ground for
political leaders. The opposition and the ruling party fight
through the media while factions within the ruling party use the
press to undermine each other. Wade has promoted the creation of
more newspapers to counterbalance criticism he receives in the
press, but increasingly even the pro-government media are
criticizing him from time to time. Moreover, the Internet sites
Rewmi and Seneweb have created a real-time public forum for ordinary
Senegalese to express their dissatisfaction with the Wade

DAKAR 00002258 002 OF 002


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SMITH

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