afrol News, 5 May - The case against ne of Senegal's most prominent journalist, Madiambal Diagne, was dropped on Tuesday on a procedural issue, ending a legal saga that spanned nearly two years and galvanised the Senegalese press. Mr Diagne, owner and managing editor of the popular independent newspaper 'Le Quotidien', had been sued after disclosing corruption.
The charges against 'Le Quotidien' editor and owner Diagne stemmed from articles he wrote in 2004 about alleged executive interference in the judiciary and corruption in the customs service. Mr Diagne was imprisoned under a controversial national security provision known as Article 80 of the penal code. He was also charged with publishing "false news" and printing secret government documents, both criminal charges under Senegalese law.
"The Senegalese justice system has done the right thing, and I think that the decision [to drop the case] will show the authorities in Senegal that any attempt to muzzle the press is doomed to failure," Mr Diagne wrote in an e-mail to the New York-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday.
In July 2004, under intense domestic and international pressure over Mr Diagne's imprisonment, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade promised to do away with Article 80; three months later, he announced that he also supported the decriminalisation of press offences.
Yet Senegal's media laws still remain unchanged, almost two years after President Wade's promises. And Article 80 remains on the books. Article 80 was used again in 2005 to jail Idrissa Seck, Senegal's former Prime Minister and President Wade's main political rival, for several months.
Article 80 criminalises any "manoeuvre or act that might compromise public security or cause serious political disturbance," and Senegal's Procedural Code imposes mandatory detention for anyone charged under the law. Mr Diagne's corruption revelations were thus found to "cause serious political disturbance", given the ample interpretation of the law.
The first of Mr Diagne's 2004 articles reported that an investigation conducted by the Dakar Finance Ministry had uncovered evidence that the former customs director had embezzled government funds. According to the article, the Finance Ministry alerted the President to these findings, leading to criminal charges against the director. A copy of the ministry's memo to President Wade, stamped "SECRET," appeared next to the article.
The second article published in 'Le Quotidien' alleged that President Wade and then-Justice Minister Serigne Diop had demoted judges who disagreed with them politically, and that this had caused anger in the judiciary community. For example, the article alleged that the demotion of one judge "occurred after a dispute which pitted him against the State."
The dropping of charges against the 'Le Quotidien' editor was welcomed in Senegal and internationally. "While we are relieved that the charges against our colleague Madiambal Diagne have finally been dropped, we are deeply concerned that Senegalese authorities are still dragging their heels over legal reform," said Ann Cooper, executive CPJ director in a statement last night.
"President Wade must demonstrate his stated commitment to press freedom by reforming Article 80 and working to remove criminal penalties for press offences," Ms Cooper however added.
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