UN envoy calls for release of jailed journalist on hunger strike in Senegal

Concerns raised over health of Pape Alé Niang, detained since 20 December on charges of revealing confidential government information

Pressure is mounting on authorities in Senegal to release a journalist and human rights defender on hunger strike in detention, after reports of his deteriorating health.

Pape Alé Niang, director of the Dakar Matin news website, has refused food since he was imprisoned on 20 December and has been in hospital since 24 December. A request for his immediate conditional release was turned down on Tuesday.

Calling for his release, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders, tweeted this week: “I’m receiving very disturbing reports about the deteriorating health of human rights defender and journalist Pape Alé Niang, in detention in Senegal and currently on hunger strike. I call for his immediate release and access to medical care.”

Senegalese reporter Pape Alé Niang
Senegalese reporter Pape Alé Niang Photograph: Handout

More than 40 journalists from across African media organisations have called for Niang’s release and for the “fallacious” charges of revealing confidential government information to be dropped. On Saturday, activists in Senegal are expected to protest outside the hospital in the capital, Dakar, where Niang is being held.

Niang, a respected investigative journalist, was arrested on 6 November after he reported a development in the high-profile investigation into an alleged rape by opposition politician and 2024 presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko, an allegation Sonko denies. In a video that Dakar Matin published on 3 November, Niang shared the contents of a police report that allegedly exonerated Sonko.

Niang was detained on charges of revealing information “likely to harm national defence”, receiving confidential administrative and military documents and disseminating false news likely to discredit state institutions. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted. He was released on bail on 14 December but sent back to prison a week later for violating bail conditions, which his lawyers deny, according to the office of the special rapporteur.

Sadibou Marong, director of the Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) west Africa bureau, said Niang’s arrest was at odds with Senegal’s reputation as a stable and fair democracy with a pluralistic media landscape.

When first elected, President Macky Sall announced that no journalist would be imprisoned in Senegal while he was in office.

Ed O’Donovan, the special adviser to Lawlor, said Senegal’s reputation as a beacon for democracy and human rights in the region is “on the line depending on how this case turns out”.

He added: “‘[Niang’s detention] seems to be emblematic of a broader trend targeting human rights defenders in the region and internationally. We’re seeing an ever increasing use of national security charges to target journalists and human rights defenders.”

Senegal was ranked 73rd out of 180 in the RSF’s 2022 press freedom ranking, falling 24 places since 2021.


Sarah Johnson

The GuardianTramp