Authorities close radios, detain staff over interview of separatist leader

Senegal’s leading private radio was closed down for most of the day on Monday under special instructions from the Interior Ministry after the station interviewed one of the leaders of a two-decade separatist rebellion in the southern Casamance region of the country.

Employees from the main station in the capital Dakar and five other relay stations across the country were brought in for questioning after authorities stopped all Sud FM transmissions for 10 hours and seized the media’s daily “Sud Quotidien.”

Police arrived at Sud FM stations across the nation within minutes of the morning airing of an interview with Salif Sadio, leader of the armed wing of the secessionist Democratic Forces Movement of Casamance (MFDC).

“The police arrived at around 9 o’clock and demanded we stop all transmissions,” said Seydou Nourou Gaye, head of Sud FM’s relay station in the main city of Casamance, Ziguinchor.

Gaye said the head of Sud FM’s Ziguinchor bureau, Ibrahima Gassama, who carried out the interview, had been detained for questioning.

In Dakar, Oumar Diouf Fall, who heads the Suf FM station in the capital, said he had had no official notification, written or verbal, to explain the government’s response. “The chief commissioner of police here in Dakar will not answer my questions,” he told IRIN.

“Even the drivers and the cleaners were arrested,” he said.

The fight goes on…

An armed separatist struggle for the lush Casamance region, which lies in the far south of Senegal and is separated from most of the country by Gambia, has rumbled on for 22 years. Since taking office in 2000, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade has worked hard to secure peace and a deal was signed last December to end what has become a low-level conflict. But hardliners within the MFDC refused to sign on.

Speaking on state radio, Interior Minister Ousamane Ngom said he had given the order to shut down Sud FM transmission in the interests of “state security”.

Despite the recent peace accords signed by the MFDC with the Wade government, Sadio used the 20-minute interview to call for a continuation of the 22-year old independence struggle.

“I will only go home to my house once Senegal has been chased out of Casamance,” said Sadio in the weekend interview which was recorded at a secret location.

For years, many Senegalese had thought Sadio dead, as he has not been seen in public nor taken part in any of the recent peace negotiations.

But photographs of Sadio, flanked by armed fighters, were splashed across the front pages of leading daily Sud Quotidien, adding to the media stir.

According to Sadio, a December 2004 peace deal between the MFDC and the Senegalese government is null and void because it was not signed by the “real” leaders of the MFDC.

Casamance: a taboo subject

This is not the first time that journalists have fallen foul of Senegalese authorities for reporting on the Casamance rebellion.

In October 2003, Sophie Malibeaux the correspondent for Radio France International (RFI), was forced to leave Senegal after conducting an interview with a dissident member of the MFDC.

While Mamadou Diallo and Alioune Cisse, Senegalese journalists who work for local newspapers Le Matin and Le Quotidien respectively, also got into trouble with the authorities over Casamance.

“I was interrogated by the Department of Criminal Investigation (DIC) for five hours in August 2000,” Diallo told IRIN. “I had published an article entitled ‘The rebels circle Ziguinchor’,” he said, explaining that the DIC demanded he write a further article saying his original report was without substance.

“I refused to write such a denial, and thanks to the intervention of some members of civil society, I was not thrown out of the country,” Diallo said.

Cisse fell foul of the authorities only last year.

“On the 27 November 2004, I published an article on the trafficking in arms between Russia and the Casamance, using Guinea Bissau as a transit point,” said Cisse. “I came to the attention of the chief judge in Dakar who subsequently notified me that I was free to go but asked me not to leave town.”

In a statement entitled “End the attempted muzzling of the press” released on Monday, Senegalse human rights group RADDHO condemned the closure of the Sud FM stations

“The government of Senegal should guard against such acts which target what are assets of democracy and are a fundamental freedom,” Aboubakry Mbodji, RADDHO’s secretary for external relations told IRIN.

Sud FM was back on the air by 6 p.m. local time but it was unclear whether all those arrested had been released without facing further charges.