Blogger condemned to pay $125,000 for defamation

An exiled Senegalese journalist, now residing in Montreal, has been ordered to pay the son of the president of the Republic of Senegal $125,000 for defaming him in a blog widely republished by African media outlets.

In a blog run by the well-respected French-based publication Nouvel Observateur, Souleymane Jules Diop portrayed Karim Meïssa Wade, in a series of postings that were published between July and November 2005, as a criminal who appropriated or diverted public funds, was involved in money-laundering, and resorted to threats and physical intimidation.

Wade, a financial analyst who is now his father’s personal advisor and the head of National Agency for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, served the Nouvel Observateur and Diop with a notice to immediately cease publication of the allegations, remove the articles posted on the blog that contained the allegations and publish a public retraction. The French magazine immediately complied but Diop did not. On December 2005, Wade filed a $600,000 suit against the defendant.

Diop argued that he was exercising his right to freedom of expression, and maintained that his postings were based on reliable sources. He also asserted that it was never his intention to harm the plaintiff but rather to inform his fellow citizens.

In a 14-page ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice André Prévost dismissed Diop’s arguments, and concluded that the plaintiff succeeded in proving that, on the balance of probabilities, the existence of injury, a wrongful act and a causal connection between the two.

Informed by the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Prud’homme v. Prud’homme, [2002] 4 S.C.R. 663, 2002 SCC 85, the judge noted that defamatory remarks must be analyzed on a standard objective, that is, whether an ordinary person would believe that the remarks made, when viewed as a whole, brought discredit on the reputation of another person.

Diop’s status, since he exiled to Montreal five years ago, took a hit, points out Judge Prévost. Now a freelance journalist, Diop enjoyed a certain notoriety in his native country, as a well-known journalist during the 1990s, and then as a former communications advisor to former Senegal prime minister Idrissa Seck. Indeed, Diop apparently even had a cordial relationship with Wade’s father, the president of the western African nation, and Wade himself – until it soured.

The blog postings, added the judge, attempted to defend former Senegal prime minister Idrissa Seck, who in Diop’s view, was unjustly removed from office and imprisoned.

“In this context, president Wade was depicted as a man with a voracious appetite for power, influenced by unscrupulous advisors, and who used all means to brush aside those who did not share his point of view,” said Judge Prévost. “The defendant suspected that the president was paving the road for his son Karim to succeed him. That did not seem to please the defendant. In the opinion of the Court, that explains the attacks by the defendant against the plaintiff. He tried to discredit him to prevent him from eventually holding a position of power in the Senegalese government.”

Considering the seriousness of the allegations made by Diop, he should have undertaken “serious” efforts to check the veracity of the information he received with more than one source. Judge Prévost concluded that Diop did not fulfil this obligation.

Diop was ordered to cease publishing defamatory comments against Karim Wade, post public excuses, and pay the defendant $75,000 in moral damages and $50,000 in exemplary damages.

Interestingly, Judge Prévost barely makes reference to the Internet, or the nature of blogging. He in fact applied the same principles that hold true for printed or visual media to the case at hand.

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