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Gambia - Yahya Jammeh orders hounding of journalists

19 June 2009 at 03:44 | 1016 views

Reporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org)

Press Release

16 June 2009

GAMBIA

Yahya Jammeh orders hounding of journalists

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its disgust at the arrest yesterday of five members of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) and two journalists at the end of a week in which President Yahya Jammeh made several threats against the media. Two other journalists were arrested on 10 June.

“The Gambian press lives in a permanent climate of fear, but rarely has the hounding of journalists by the head of state and his government reached such levels before”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“The bigotry of Yahya Jammeh towards the media and independant journalists is unparalleled in West Africa. We affirm our unconditional support to the Gambia Press Union and call for the immediate release of all the arrested journalists. We also urge the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and the Commonwealth, of which Gambia is a member to put pressure on the government to show more respect for press freedom and fundamental rights,” said the organisation.

Gambian police yesterday raided the premises of the GPU and arrested five of its members: vice president Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, its secretary general Emil Touray, its treasurer Pa Modou Fall, and Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, respectively publisher and editor of the independent daily The Point.

Later in the day, National Intelligence Agency (NIA) agents dressed in plain clothes and circulating in a vehicle with the registration BJL 7176F, made two further arrests. They picked up the editor of the opposition newspaper Foroyaa, Sam Sarr and Abubakar Saidykhan, a reporter on Foroyaa, who was arrested when he tried to raise the alarm about the arrest of his colleague.

The wave of arrests follows the release on 12 June of a statement from the GPU calling on the president to accept his government’s responsibility in the 2004 murder of the country’s best known and respected journalist Deyda Hydara. The president gave an interview on public GRTS television on 8 June in which he denied any state involvement in the killing.

Deyda Hydara, editor and co-founder of The Point, who was also correspondent in Gambia for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reporters Without Borders, was shot dead on 16 December 2004 while driving his car in an outlying suburb of the capital Banjul. Two investigations carried out by Reporters Without Borders pinpointed serious suspicion of the responsibility of the Gambian security services, particularly a semi-secret group of the president’s supporters, known as the “Green Boys”. At the time of his death Hydara had become identified with outspokenness and barbed criticism of the government.

In another case, police arrested two journalists on 10 June and questioned them for “publishing false news”. They were the managing editor of the independent daily Today, Abdullamid Adiamoh, of Nigerian origin, who had a previous brush with the authorities in August 2008, and Edward Carayol, the paper’s editor. The journalists were to go on trial today for publishing an article saying that justice minister, Marie Saine Firdaus, and local affairs minister, Ismalia Sambou had been sacked. The reports turned out to be untrue and the newspaper immediately apologised and withdrew the article.

The Gambian government issued a denial at the start of June that Musa Saidykhan, editor of the bi-monthly The Independent in Banjul, had been tortured by the NIA following his arrest in March 2006 and illegal detention on NIA premises for 22 days without charge. The ECOWAS community court of justice is currently investigating the case.

Finally, on 22 May 2009, President Jammeh threatened immediate legal action against any media which carried remarks made by the Iman of Kanifing, Baba Leigh, a fierce opponent of the regime. “In my capacity as minister in charge of religious affairs, I will not allow such scholars to mislead people”, said the head of State.

Yahya Jammeh has for several years been on Reporters Without Borders’ list of ‘Press Freedom Predators’. Gambia is ranked 137th out of 173 countries on the organisation’s worldwide press freedom index.

For more information on:

- President Yahya Jammeh: http://www.rsf.org/en-predateur13595-Yahya_Jammeh.html

- "Chief" Ebrima Manneh, journalist on the privately owned The Daily Observer, who disappeared after being arrested on 7 July 2006: http://www.rsf.org/Regional-group-asked-to-intercede.html

- The state of press freedom in Gambia: http://www.rsf.org/en-rapport18-Gambia.html

Photo: Journalist Ebrima Manneh.

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