The IPI global network condemns the widespread mobile internet disruption in Senegal and the indefinite withdrawal of the broadcasting license for Walf TV following the postponement of Senegal’s general elections that were initially scheduled for February 25, 2024. Authorities must restore Walf TV’s license, protect and promote independent journalism, and ensure the public has access to information both online and offline.
Senegalese President Macky Sall postponed the elections on February 3. On February 5, Parliament voted on a bill setting December 15 as the date for the new vote.
News of the postponement was met with public protest. Authorities responded with police repression, quelling demonstrations, disconnecting mobile internet, and revoking the broadcasting license of Walf TV, which is considered critical of the government. Several protestors were arrested, as were journalists reporting on the public unrest.
“These deeply concerning developments in Senegal send a chilling message to journalists and citizens alike and set a dangerous precedent for the upcoming elections”, said Nompilo Simanje, IPI Africa Advocacy and Partnerships Lead. “It is vital that Senegal adheres to its international and regional obligations and ensures that media freedom, freedom of expression, and access to information are upheld during this critical period, leading up to the upcoming December 15 elections,”
“We also urge the Senegalese authorities to investigate all reported cases of media rights violations related to the protests,” she added.
Series of suspension of Walf TV
The government’s indefinite withdrawal of the broadcasting license of Walf TV over its coverage of the recent protests adds to a string of recent incidents involving the suspension of critical media in Senegal, as documented by IPI. Between March 2021 and February 2024, the authorities suspended Walf TV four times over its critical reporting, highlighting the increasing deterioration of the press freedom situation in Senegal over the last three years.
Assaults and detention of journalists
On February 4, security forces unlawfully arrested and detained Sokhna Ndack Mbacké of the online news site Agora TV, and Khadija Ndate Diouf of the television channel Itv while they were covering the protests. Hadiya Talla of the online news portal Vallée de l’Info was harassed while reporting live on the public protest. A third journalist, Clément Bonnerot, correspondent of the France-based television channel TV5 Monde, was targeted with tear gas while filming the protests.
IPI has previously documented other cases of journalists arrested and detained in Senegal over their criticism of the government or for reporting on the earlier protests related to the sentencing and imprisonment of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. These include the detention of journalist Pape Ale Niang who has been detained three times since his first arrest in November 2022
Restrictions on internet access
This recent internet restriction underscores an increasingly worrying trend of violation of access to information in Senegal and the exercise of civil and political liberties in Senegal. Mobile internet was shut down by the authorities on February 4 to quell the public protest over the elections but was restored the following day. IPI partners in Senegal indicated access to mobile internet was restored since Monday while TikTok access which had been blocked earlier in June 2023 was also restored on Wednesday.
In July 2023, the authorities disrupted mobile internet and blocked access to social media platforms, also in response to protests.
IPI published a toolkit on press freedom frameworks in Senegal highlighting the commitments that Senegal has made at national, regional, and international levels to uphold fundamental rights. IPI urges the Senegal government to guarantee the enjoyment of these fundamental rights during this period leading up to the next election date.