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Senegal: Newspaper Editor Charged over Ebola Story

(Aug. 19, 2014) Felix N’Zale, editor of the Senegalese newspaper La Tribune, has been detained by the Senegal police since August 11, 2014. He was charged with “spreading false news” and was remanded to custody in the Rebeuss prison. The charge is based on an article in his newspaper that appeared on August 11. It described five cases of Ebola virus infections reportedly found in Senegal. (Prosecutor Detains Editor of Senegalese Newspaper for Spreading False Information, LERAL.NET (Aug. 13, 2014), Open Source Center online subscription database, Doc. No. AFL2014081343784304.)

Although N’Zale could have been subject to a sentence of three years of imprisonment, the prosecutor has only asked for the imposition of a one-year, suspended sentence and a fine of CFA500,000 (about US$1,021). (Félix N’Zale Condamné à un An de Prison avec Sursis et 500.000 F CFA d’Amendes Requis, DAKAR FLASH (Aug. 14, 2014).)

At present, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not list Senegal as one of the countries experiencing a widespread outbreak of Ebola. (2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, CDC website (last visited Aug. 18, 2014).) A traveler from Liberia to Senegal was suspected of having the virus, but then tested negative for it. (Suspected Imported Cases, INTERNATIONAL SOS (last updated Aug. 18, 2014).)

The Union of Professionals of Information and Communication of Senegal expressed its regret that N’Zale was detained. It stressed, however, that journalists should ensure that they treat information professionally and avoid acts of spreading false information that could make them liable to arrest. (Prosecutor Detains Editor of Senegalese Newspaper for Spreading False Information, supra.)

Freedom House, which describes itself as “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world,” has assessed Senegal on its press freedom as being “partly free,” giving it a score of 52 on a scale of zero to 100, where zero represents the most press freedom. (Freedom of the Press: Senegal; About Us, both available at the Freedom House website (both last visited Aug. 18, 2014).)