13 May 2009

President pardons editor convicted of defamation

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A Senegalese editor who was serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for defaming leading government officials has been pardoned, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

El Malick Seck, editor of the Dakar daily "24 Heures Chrono", was freed eight months into his sentence on 24 April following a Presidential pardon.

Seck was arrested in August 2008 only hours after writing an editorial that alleged President Wade and his son Karim, a special adviser, were involved in a money laundering scheme. He was handed a three-year jail term for offending the head of state, publishing false news and threatening public order. "24 Heures Chrono" was suspended for three months for the same offence.

Then on 23 December, Seck was sentenced to a further six months in prison for defaming Interior Minister Sheikh Tidiane Sy and ordered to pay US$66,600 in damages.

Seck and his paper are no strangers to government harassment. In yet another defamation case, Seck and another "24 Heures Chrono" colleague were sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term sentence, allegedly for defaming the Ministry of Culture.

According to WiPC, Senegal is one of Africa's worst offenders for prosecuting journalists on criminal defamation charges, with about 20 such cases brought against journalists every year. Courts frequently hand down disproportionate rulings, often consisting of both custodial sentences and heavy fines. But in the recent past journalists have rarely gone to prison.

President Abdoulaye Wade pledged to repeal criminal penalties for press offences, including defamation in 2004, but, says WiPC, "the use of criminal defamation laws against journalists, including those providing for 'insulting the President', appears to have increased in recent years." WiPC urges the President to review Senegal's defamation laws and fulfil his promise to decriminalise press offences.

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Journalist El Malick Seck pardoned 29 April 2009
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