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The arrest of a prominent journalist in Senegal has sparked unrest and fears

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Senegal is widely seen as a peaceful and stable democracy in West Africa, but the arrest of a prominent journalist there has sparked unrest and fears that government critics are being targeted. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports the arrest comes as the country's president may seek a third term.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Journalist Pape Ale Niang was arrested in November, leading crowds of protesters to immediately demand his release. Now, months later, the protests are growing more desperate.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

AKINWOTU: Niang went on a two-week hunger strike and is now being held in hospital. His lawyers told NPR his condition has deteriorated with damage to his vital organs. Niang was charged for publishing information that could harm national security. He posted a video report on a politically sensitive case concerning rape charges against a popular opposition politician and potential 2024 presidential candidate.

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PAPE ALE NIANG: (Non-English language spoken).

AKINWOTU: In this video, Niang said he found secret police information proving the police knew the politician, Ousmane Sonko, was innocent. Many in Senegal said Niang's arrest has sent a warning. Senegal is a country usually thought of as stable and peaceful, but these are tense times. Elections are due to be held next year. President Macky Sall is coming towards the end of his second term in office, but has been coy on whether he will seek a controversial third term.

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PRESIDENT MACKY SALL: (Speaking non-English language).

AKINWOTU: And in his New Year's address, he didn't provide any more clarity. His ambiguity has sparked unrest and criticism by the opposition and the media. Sadibou Marong, director of Reporters Without Borders in West Africa, says this latest turn of events is causing widespread concern.

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SADIBOU MARONG: (Speaking French).

AKINWOTU: "Press freedom in a country like Senegal, which was once a flagship of the press," he says, "is in danger, is under threat." Criticism of Niang's treatment is growing. The U.N. rapporteur for human rights defenders has called for his release, and many in Senegal say the country's image as a stable democracy is under strain. Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Lagos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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