The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today called on the government of Senegal to drop charges against journalist Adama Gaye, who has been detained over a month on colonial-era charges of insulting the country’s president.

A well-known critical of the current Senegalese government, Gaye was arrested at his home in downtown Dakar by the Senegal police’s Criminal Investigation Division on July 29. Two days later he was charged with acting to compromise public security and offending the president. He remains behind bars in Dakar’s Rebeuss prison, according to a lawyer assisting in his case.

The charges relate to a series of Facebook posts that appeared on Gaye’s public account on June 29, which accused the president of having an extra-marital affair. In other posts he accused the head-of-state of being a “thief” and “selling off” Senegal’s resources. If found guilty of both crimes Gaye faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of 3 million Central African francs (€4,566).

A former director of information at the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and now an independent journalist and commentator, Gaye has covered politics and business stories in Senegal and West Africa for many years, appearing in national and international news agencies such as Jeune Afrique, Al Jazeera and France24. He is a well-known scholar, an analyst of West African politics and an expert in Africa-China relations. He has regularly appeared a guest on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story.

Gaye is a critic of the government and has been outspoken about the alleged mismanagement of the country’s oil and gas sector. He has written and spoken extensively on local TV about the government’s 2012 deal for oil and gas prospecting and exploitation, which was the subject of a June 2019 BBC documentary “The $10 Billion Energy Scandal”. In the report it was alleged the president’s brother, Aliou Sall, who had been hired by the Timis Corporation, profited financially from the deal, charges he denied. Gaye had posted regularly about the scandal on his Facebook page in June and July.

“Criticism of the government is a healthy and necessary part of any functioning democracy, which Senegal professes to be”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “This colonial-era crime of insulting the head-of-state has no place in a modern democracy and should be repealed.”

He added: “Adama Gaye has been behind bars for a month now for the crime of daring to use his freedom of expression. We demand all charges against him be dropped and ask the government of Senegal to release him immediately.”

Raphael Seidler, a lawyer based in Vienna who has represented Gaye several times in the past and who is in contact with Gaye’s legal counsel in Senegal, told IPI that Gaye denied the charges and believes his Facebook account had been hacked.

While Gaye admits owning the account and posting previous messages, he denies writing about the alleged affair, Seidler said. “He believes his Facebook account was broken into and asserts he had no knowledge of the messages being published.”

“The real issue here is that Mr. Gaye has been a prominent critic of the government for years,” he said. “We believe he is being targeted for his critical reporting. It appears he finally got in the line of fire of the president.”

Seidler added that Gaye has diabetes and was being held in poor conditions in jail. On Wednesday, an application for provisional bail pending trial was rejected by a court in Dakar.