Human rights organization raises concerns over Senegal’s disinformation law

International human rights organization Article 19 raised concerns on Wednesday over the law against disinformation as a threat to freedom of speech and expression. These apprehensions arise ahead of the upcoming elections in the West African country on February 25.

Article 19 has expressed concern about the erosion of fundamental freedoms in Senegal, particularly the right to freedom of expression, the right to protest, and the right to access information. The organization points to the misuse of a legal framework aimed at addressing disinformation, leading to the suppression of journalists, activists, and political opponents. The legislation criminalizing disinformation, which is Article 255 of the Senegal Penal Code, provides for imprisonment between one to three years for those accused of spreading “false information”, “disinformation” or “fake news” and a fine of up to XOF 1,500,000 (nearly USD 2,500). As Article 19 noted, these terms are not defined under international law.

The organization recommends key actions for the Senegal Government. They advocate repealing Article 255 of the Penal Code for its failure to meet international standards in addressing disinformation and call for eliminating all criminal defamation measures, emphasizing their inconsistency with global standards. Additionally, the government is urged to stop targeting and repressing journalists, activists, and human rights defenders reporting on public interest issues. Lastly, it encourages capacity-building for legal professionals, proposing engagement with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and utilizing resources from recent UN reports on disinformation.

Freedom House also noted that this legislation restricts press freedom, despite Senegal’s constitutional protections for freedom of speech and independent media. Internet disruptions during protests also indicate limitations on media freedom. While private discussions and academic discourse are generally open, occasional arrests for offensive social media posts occur. Legislations, such as a 2018 electronic-communications bill and 2021 amendments to the Senegal Penal Code, raise concerns about government control over social media and the potential abuse of police surveillance powers.

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