(AFP) – Sep 8, 2008
DAKAR (AFP) — Twelve men accused of having ransacked the offices of two Senegalese newspapers went on trial Monday, in a case that has highlighted growing tensions between the government and sections of the media.
Prosecutors called for five-year jail sentences for the defendants, local media reported.
The court adjourned the case, which centres around the ransacking last month of the offices of two private newspapers L'As and 24 heures Chrono, until Thursday -- the official APS news agency reported.
The 12 defendants face charges ranging from robbery and assault to damage to property and criminal association.
The offices of the two newspapers were raided on the night of August 17 to 18 by a dozen men who used tear gas to chase staff away and destroyed computers, said media reports at the time.
The Committee for the Defence of Journalists, a media watchdog set up by unions and owners of private publications, said at the time that the attackers had arrived in a government vehicle, recognisable by its licence plates.
The incident followed growing tensions between private press owners and the authorities, sparked by the police beating of two journalists at a football match on June 21.
Several newspapers even accused transport minister Farba Senghor, known for his outbursts against the media, of being behind the attack.
Senghor, a close confidant of President Aboulaye Wade, denied the allegations, accusing the media of conducting a campaign against him.
On August 28, a government statement said that Senghor had been relieved of his ministerial fucntions so that there could be no suggestion of impropriety in the conduct of the trial.
Although he was questioned by the public prosecutor on September 1, he was not named as a defendant in the case, nor was he in court Monday, local media reported.
Plaintiffs in the case called for compensation of 50 million CFA francs (76,000 euros, 107,000 dollars) for L'As and 10 million CFA francs in compensation for an employee of 24 Heures who was injured in the attack.
Lawyers for the defendants called for the accused to be released, APS reported.
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