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Cablegate: Senegal: Mouride Thugs Ransack Media Group

VZCZCXRO2654
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHDK #1336/01 3011640
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281640Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY DAKAR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3253
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DAKAR 001336

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, DRL AND INR/AA
PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINS KDEM ECON SG
SUBJECT: Senegal: Mouride thugs ransack media group

1. (SBU) Summary. On September 25, a group of thugs led by Mame
Thierno Mbacke forcibly removed Sidy Lamine Niasse, founder of the
Walfadjri media group, from his home and ransacked the group's
headquarters. Mame Thierno Mbacke is the brother and assistant of
politico-religious leader Modou Kara MBacke. Kara is the guru for a
large number of disaffected and impoverished urban youth. His
followers call him "General" Kara and he, de facto, leads a large
group of militants that gives him substantial bargaining power with
the ruling party. End Summary.

The Heart of the Matter
-----------------------

2. (SBU) The incident was triggered by an interview in which a
half-brother of Kara accused him of supporting President Abdoulaye
Wade only for material gains. He also criticized him for failing to
take care of their mother. It was after Walfadjri published the
interview that they received a visit from Kara's followers.
Meanwhile, the half-brother, who lives in Italy as a Senegalese
immigrant worker, has allegedly received death threats and fears for
his life if he returns to Senegal.

Kidnapping a Media Leader
---------------------------

3. (SBU) On September 25 around 14:00, a group of young men led by
Mame Thierno Mbacke went to the headquarters of Walfadjri demanding
to be put on air to respond to the defamation against their leader.
When this demand was rejected they started beating employees and
vandalizing the premises of the radio station. At the same time,
another group went to the home of CEO Sidy Lamine Niasse and told
him "You have to come with us to talk to our Marabout (religious
leader)." When Niasse declined their offer, they seized him and
carried him by force to the home of Mame Thierno Mbacke. Niasse
told Embassy that he made it clear to Mame Thierno that "he held him
responsible for whatever happens to him but he had nothing to tell
him." Mame Thierno ordered his release.

The GOS is the Culprit
-----------------------

4. (SBU) When he was released, Niasse immediately went to his
headquarters to organize a response. While he accused the state of
being behind the attack he later admitted to Poloff that he has no
evidence to back up his claim. However, he added "I accuse them,
because people like Modou Kara only attack those they think are weak
and the state has undertaken many efforts to weaken me." He gave
examples of government agencies cutting his signal twice in 2007 and
2009 and of an inflated June 2009 tax bill of 339 million CFA (USD
650,000). That amount was reduced to 18 million CFA (USD 36,000)
after he asked President Wade for help. In a show of unity, almost
all political leaders from the opposition went to his headquarters
and some, including the Mayor of Dakar, made live statements on Walf
TV. They denounced the GOS's authoritarian methods to intimidate
the media. In response, the Minister of Communication, Moustapha
Guirassy, also went to Walfadjri to express regrets for the attack,
but denied any involvement by the state.

Impunity and Deals
-------------------

5. (SBU) Niasse indicated early in the process that, even though the
vandals were filmed in broad daylight, he would not take the matter
to court but would rather leave it to the prosecutor to act. The
Prosecutor of the Republic duly ordered an investigation by the DIC
(the national police's Department of Criminal Investigation.) They
interrogated Mame Thierno for 8 hours, but they did not arrest him.
They then ordered him to report for a second interview but he
ignored the order. The Mouride religious leader of Darou Mouhty,
where Mame Thierno is from, allegedly told the government that it
would be unacceptable to them if Thierno was arrested. Since then,
the case has been dropped and Mame Thierno remains free, despite his
contempt of the DIC's order. Sidy Lamine Niasse told Poloff that he
did not want to take the matter to court because he knows that
"sociological" realities make it difficult for the state to
prosecute a religious leader without alienating influential members
of various religious brotherhoods. Modou Kara Mbacke subsequently
apologized to Niasse and the state will probably show more leniency
in various fiscal and IPR litigations that it has pending against
Walfadjri.

6. (SBU) Comment. This incident once again demonstrates the
fragility of freedom of expression in Senegal. Both the GOS and
organized religious groups have shown little tolerance for dissent,
especially by the media. Despite claiming the contrary, the
parliament has, since 2005, been sitting on a draft law to
decriminalize media crimes. Additionally, the complacency shown by
investigative authorities in bringing the vandals to justice
underscores the government's passive complicity in attempting to

DAKAR 00001336 002 OF 002


silence independent media voices. End comment.
BERNICAT

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