DAKAR (AFP) — Senegalese newspaper publisher El Malick Seck was sentenced to three years in jail Friday after publishing an article implicating President Abdoulaye Wade in money-laundering, his lawyer said.
Demba Cire Bathily also said that Seck's daily newspaper, 24 Heures Chrono, had been suspended for three months, amid worsening relations between the government and the private media.
Cire Bathily said he was appealing the ruling, which he called a "political decision that confirms the drive to eliminate El Malick Seck and his newspaper".
Seck was arrested on August 28, hours after an article he wrote alleging Wade and his son Karim were "mixed up" with the laundering of money stolen in Ivory Coast appeared in the privately-owned newspaper.
He had faced a jail term of up to five years and a fine of 1.5 million CFA francs (2,300 euros, 3,300 dollars) for publishing false news, conduct likely to disturb public order and receiving sensitive government documents.
Cire Bathily said he did not yet know of which charges his client had been convicted.
"This sentence reflects all the unfairness and absurdity of Senegal's law on press offences," the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders media watchdog group said in a statement.
"The alleged libel is in no way redressed by imposing a very severe sentence and now the government has a political prisoner on its hands."
Relations between Wade's government and the press have turned sour in recent months, and last month 2,000-3,000 people demonstrated in Dakar to demand an end to a "campaign of demonisation and intimidation" against the media.
The protest followed raids on two private newspapers, L'As and 24 Heures Chrono, by men who used tear gas to chase staff away and destroyed computers.
Twelve men accused of ransacking the newspaper offices were sentenced Thursday to between five and six years in prison for assault and criminal association.
They were also ordered to pay compensation of 20 million CFA francs (30,500 euros, 42,700 dollars) to L'As and two million CFA francs to an employee of 24 Heures Chrono who was injured in the attack.
The four defendants who were each jailed for six years included two bodyguards of former transport minister Farba Senghor and the driver of the official vehicle that transported the assailants.
Newspapers had accused Senghor, known for his outbursts against the media, of being behind the attacks.
Senghor, a close confidant of Wade and the propaganda chief for his party, denied the allegations, accusing the media of waging a campaign against him.
On August 28, a government statement said that Senghor had been relieved of his ministerial functions so that there could be no suggestion of impropriety in the conduct of the trial, but he was not named as a defendant in the case.
In Paris on Wednesday, however, Wade said there were serious accusations against him and he would face trial.
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