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Decriminalizing Press Offences in Senegal

Mar 16, 2009, 3:51 AM

Senegalese Head of State, Maitre Abdoulaye Wade,s last Thursday according to Radio Sud FM, announced in Tambacounda plans to introduce a bill in Parliament for decriminalizing press offences in Senegal.

From His Excellency's exposition, the effect of the bill would be to protect journalists from being imprisoned without due process of law. This, it is evident, would put an end to arbitrary arrests, detentions and incarceration of journalists. If the Bill is passed by the Senegalese Parliament, journalists would from then on stand trial in the tort of defamation, which is a civil proceeding, for offences through the press, rather than being thrown in jails or other forms of oppression and abuse.

It would no longer be permissible or legal to jail a journalist for such offences or to institute criminal proceedings against him or her.

The Bill envisages that decriminalizing press offences would give journalists greater freedom for the execution of their important duties. This is a significant and important objective in that it stresses the need for greater press freedom as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Article 9.

The statement also highlights the unimpeachable, undeniable and incontrovertible fact that the journalist has a very important duty in society and in the nation. President Wade is quoted in his summing up, "Journalists will no longer be imprisoned. We will make a giant step towards democracy."

By all accounts, President Wade's pledge is meritorious for democracy and the rule of law. In its application it is necessary to note that the Bill would not exonerate journalists from their responsibilities or any libellous commissions.

Journalists would still have to report responsibly, and failing to do so could be summoned in a court of law for any alleged defamatory material. Hence President Wade's valid warning to journalists that the move to de-criminalize press offences should not be used as a reason or excuse to defame others.

We as journalists are also pledging, as always, to do everything possible to stay within the ambit of responsible reporting. We have always done this, and tried to do so, albeit that despite all efforts, journalists have often times been victimized and maltreated, and have had their rights and freedoms trampled upon.

It is hoped that President Wade's initiative, as pledged, would create greater press freedom in Senegal, and serve as a shining example for countries especially in Africa, that continue to suppress information and journalists who endeavour to provide legitimate information.

"Freedom is the right to do whatever the laws permit."

Montesquieu, Charles