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Protesters Demand Release of Jailed Senegal Journalist

Senegalese journalists demonstrate in support of their colleague Pape Ale Niang who is in prison, at the press house in Dakar on Jan. 4, 2023.

Protesters, journalists gathered at the premises of ''maison de la presse'' or press house in Dakar, Senegal Wednesday to demand the release of jailed journalist and prominent anti-government critic, Pape Alé Niang.

Alé Niang, head of the Dakar Matin ["Dakar Morning"] online news website, has been in detention for the past two weeks after been charged with ''divulging information likely to harm national defense'' following an arrest on Nov. 6.

Niang, widely followed in Senegal for his regular columns on current affairs, was released on December 14 but sent back to prison a week later.

He has been on a hunger strike since his latest imprisonment on December 20 with his lawyer saying that he's ''extremely strained.''

Director of Amnesty International Senegal, Seydi Gassama said he's worried that Niang ''will spend the rest of his life treating the after-effects of this hunger strike'' if he's not released immediately.

"Someone who has gone almost a month without eating cannot be in good health, cannot be in good health,'' he said.

Sadibou Marone, director of Reporters Without Borders in West Africa told the gathering that Niang's place is in the newsroom and not prison.

"The freedom of the press in a country like Senegal, which was once a flagship of the press, is in danger, is threatened," Marone said.

The case against Niang came after he wrote about rape charges faced by the country's main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko.

He was accused of describing confidential messages about security arrangements for Sonko's interview with investigators, according to trade unions.

Niang's detention has sparked a wave of criticism from the press, civil society groups and Senegal's opposition, many of whom have joined calls for his release.

Guy Marius Sagna, MP for the opposition coalition Yewwi Askan, claimed that it is not only the press that is being threatened.

"We are all threatened. Because today, as soon as you say "We must not defraud the Senegalese tax payers' money", you are a target. As soon as you take your camera, you show what they do not want the Senegalese to see, you are threatened."

Senegal has a strong reputation for openness and press freedom in West Africa , but Reporters Without borders said that status is declining.

Its 2022 Press Freedom Index ranked Senegal 73rd out of 180 countries - a drop of 24 places compared with the previous assessment.