A Senegalese journalist has been arrested after being accused of spreading information harmful to public security. The arrest comes after the journalist published articles about rape charges facing main opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
Pape Ale Niang, who runs the news website Dakar Matin, was detained Sunday while changing a car tire in downtown Dakar, according to local reports.
Niang is an outspoken journalist known for his investigations into abuses of power.
Details about the rape allegations against Sonko were reportedly taken from a classified military document that implicated a leader of Senegal’s gendarmerie in spying on Sonko.
Sonko placed third in the 2019 presidential election and is running again in 2024. He was arrested last year on what many believe were dubious accusations of rape. The incident ignited a week of rioting that led to the deaths of 14 people.
Sonko, who has been under judicial supervision since March 2021, appeared before a judge Thursday for the first time.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is in his second term, is set to leave office in 2024. But fears are mounting that he will run for an unconstitutional third term — accusations which he has neither confirmed nor denied.
Senegal’s press regulation body, the Council for the Observance of Ethics Rules and Professional Conduct in the Media, on Monday issued a declaration to condemn Niang’s arrest.
“It is very unfair,” said Mamadou Thior, chairperson of the organization. “We know that if we don’t protest against that, it’s Pape Ale Niang today, and tomorrow it will be me or someone else. We are supporting him, no matter what happens. Because Pape Ale as an investigative journalist did his job.”
Thior said the gendarmerie are at fault for failing to protect the document.
Niang is facing three charges, including the violation of professional secrecy and making public information that could harm the national defense, according to a statement given by Niang’s lawyer to the French news agency, AFP. A third charge accuses Niang of acts liable to compromise public security.
Journalist arrests in Senegal are rare. Senegal was ranked 49th out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders 2021 press freedom index. But the country fell to 73 in 2022 — a level considered problematic.
“It’s a regrettable situation in a country like Senegal, where for so long the freedom of the press has been something which has been applauded,” said Sadibou Marong, who heads the Reporters Without Borders West Africa bureau. “The fact that he, as part of his investigative reporting, is being arrested — it is nonnegotiable.”
Marong also said Senegal’s decrease in press freedom rankings occurred largely due to threats to journalist safety and the forced closure of media stations.