The media under attack in The Gambia Since 1994
With the emergency of the military government led by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh in July 1994, the media in The Gambia had witnessed various forms of repression and intimidation. For the past 12 years journalists in The Gambia, most especially those working for the private media, have been subjected to arson attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, detention without charge, harassment and intimidation by the security forces, (most especially the National Intelligence Agency NIA) torture and the brutal shooting of two journalists. In addition to these drastic acts, the media in The Gambia has also been confronted with obnoxious legislations such as the infamous National Media Commission Act, which are basically designed by the government to cut the wings of the Gambian media. There were also amendments made to the Criminal Code, which criminalises offences in relation to freedom of expression.
As a result of the brutal onslaught on the media, most journalists have been forced to go into exile or to abandon the profession due to family pressure, while a number of newspapers and radio stations have been indefinitely closed by the government. To date the attacks on the media have intensified. Below are some of the attacks on the media in The Gambia dating back to February, 1998.
June 30, 2009
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court, hearing the case of torture brought by Gambian journalist, Musa Saidykhan against operatives of the Gambia's notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA), dismissed preliminary objections raised by the Gambian Government, the defendant in the case.
In November 2007, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) brought the suit on behalf of Saidykhan to seek justice for him and bring relief to many other Gambian journalists who had suffered similar fates and had escaped into exile for fear of repression.
June 15, 2009
Seven journalists were arrested and questioned by the NIA in relation to a statement the GPU issued, criticizing President Jammeh utterances on murdered journalist, Deyda Hydara. The Seven, include the Vice- President of the GPU, Sarata Jabbi Dibba were charged with Seditious publication and defamation. Those arrested include; Bai Emil Touray and Pa Modou Faal, both executive members of the GPU; Ebrima Sawaneh and Pap Saine of The Point Newspaper and Sam Sarr and Abubacarr SaidyKnah of the Foroyaa Newspaper.
The Editor-in-Chief of Today Newspaper, Abdulhamid Adiamoh, and Sub-editor Edward Carayol were arrested after an article in the paper's Wednesday edition reported "that the country's Attorney General and Minister of Justice Marie Saine-Firdaus and other senior government officials had been fired. Mr Carayol was release on bail; while Mr Adiamoh remained under detention for three days. He was then charged for publishing false and broadcasting information and subsequently sentence to a fine D50,000 (USD2,174) in default to serve one year in jail:
Mr. Pap Saine, editor of the Point newspaper, was rearrested on Monday interrogated by the Serious Crime Unit of the Gambia Police Force about his nationality.
February 9, 2009
Officials of the Gambia Police Force arrested Pap Saine, managing editor of the Banjul-based The Point newspaper, subjected him to several hours of interrogation and charged him with another offence of "false publication and broadcasting" at the serious crime unit.
Ousman Kagbo Editor-in- Chief of Business Digest was arrested and questioned by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). He was later released with no charges were preferred against him.
Abdul Hamid Adiamoh Editor -in-Chief of the Today newspaper was arrested; charged and sentenced to a fine D20;000 (USD865) in default to serve 6 months in jail for his failure to pay income and sales tax.
Buya Jammeh a reporter working with the Daily Observer was sacked by the management of the Daily Observer few days after being elected as a co-opted member of the Gambia Press Union (GPU). Buba was cautioned by the Managing Director and Editor- in- Chief, Dida Halake,to resign from his position from the GPU or quit the Observer. Buba however decided to quit the Daily Observer instead.
Assistant State House Press Secretary, Mam Sait Ceesay and state radio producer and presenter, Malick Jones were arrested by the NIA and held at Mile Two Prison, in Banjul and accused of spreading “false information” They were both eventually dismissed from their respective jobs, but Malick Jones was eventually reinstated at the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS).
March 28, 2007
Fatou, Jaw Manneh, a former reporter of the Daily Observer residing in the USA was arrested by the NIA upon arrival at Banjul International Airport. She had come from the USA to visit her family and to pay tribute to her father who had earlier passed away. She was charged with sedition which followed her conviction and sentenced to a find of D250; 000 (USD 10, 869) or to serve two years in jail.
December 12, 2006,
Baron Eloagu of the Daily Express, a privately owned newspaper was attacked and beaten. This followed the severe beating up of Abdougafar Olademinji, also of the Daily Express.
Dodou Sanneh, a reporter with the Gambia Radio and Television Services GRTS who was covering the campaign of the UDP led opposition coalition was recalled from his assignment and arrested when he reported for work, for what was termed as “favourable reporting for the opposition”. He was released on Monday, 27 September 2006 and sacked on the same day without reasons being given. He was reinstated but later sacked again.
Njameh Bah, a reporter of The Point was attacked in Bakoteh, about 18km from the capital, Banjul and severely beaten by her attackers.
Ebrima B. Manneh, a reporter with the Daily Observer was declared missing by his family. Manneh was last seen on July 7 by his colleagues. He is also believed to be in the hands of the NIA. Sulayman Makalo, another reporter with the Independent Newspaper is also declared missing.
A number of journalists and civilians were arrested and detained after being accused by the authorities of being the “informants” of an online Gambian Newspaper based in the United States. This was highly refuted by editor of the paper, who indicated that those whose names were published by the Daily Observer newspaper in Banjul and arrested by the NIA, were just mere subscribes to the paper.
However, journalist Malick Mboob, a former reporter of the Daily Observer and Communications officer of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital is still languishing in detention at the NIA headquarters. Musa Sheriff, a Liberian journalist who was also arrested in relation to the publication of the subscribers names on the pro -government paper was severely tortured by the officials of the NIA whilst in detention. Omar Bah, former editor of the Daily Observer has been declared WANTED by the Inspector General of Police. His whereabouts are not known.
April 10, 2006
Lamin Fatty, a reporter with the Independent Newspaper was arrested and detained at the headquarters of the NIA. Fatty spent almost two months in detention before he was finally charged for “false publication”. He is presently standing trial at the Magistrate’s Court and there are fears that if found guilty he would be jailed for at least six months.
March 27/28, 2006
Another crackdown on The Independent newspaper. Editor-in-chief, Musa Saidykhan, was arrested on March 27th by the security forces. The editor’s arrest was followed by the arrest of the entire staff of the company, including its newly appointed manager, Madi Ceesay. Security officers also sealed off the paper’s office complex. After weeks in solitary confinement punctuated with systematic and physical torture, the duo who double as president and vice presidents of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), were released on bail 22 days later.
Their arrest was linked to the publication of a list of the March 21 attempted foiled coup suspects. Editor Saidykhan had since fled the country.
Ramatoulie Charreh who was then with the Daily Observer was ruffled by police when participants at the international conference attempted to visit the site where Late Deyda Hydara was gunned down.
A Senegalese affiliated radio station in Banjul, Sud FM, also became a victim of closure after it had broadcast a border stand-off negotiation meeting between The Gambia and Senegal. Few hours after the broadcast, the police seized the station’s license, asked the staff out and locked its doors. It was accused of broadcasting statement enough to create confusion between the two countries. The station still remains close.
December 16, 2004
The editor and co-founder of The Point Newspaper, Deyda Hydara was brutally killed by three bullets at the wheel of his car just few meters away from a police depot. Hydara’s killing coincided with the 13th anniversary of the founding of The Point. The two other staff of The Point who were inside Hydara’s car at the time of the incident – Nyansarang Jobe and Ida Jagne – also sustained serious injuries. Nyansarang was shot on the leg while Ida sustained severe bruises.
The house of the BBC Banjul correspondent, Ebrima Sillah, in Jambur about 24 km from the capital Banjul was attacked by the arsonists. They forced open a sitting room window, poured some diesel fuel on the floor and set it on fire. Sillah had to escape through a window but everything in the house was burnt to ashes, including a lap top that was given to him by the BBC.
Six armed masked men put the printers of The Independent Newspaper at gun point, poured diesel on the paper’s new printing machine and set it on fire. During the 3:00 am melee, some staff sustained severe injuries. The arsonists left behind a pistol, which was given to the police. Two of the arsonists, Coporal Sana Manjang and Sheriff Guissey (both soldiers of the National Guard) were named in parliament. The government still kept mute over the issue, as the suspects were neither arrested nor prosecuted.
A group in a green pickup vehicle (that are normally used by government agents) without number plates paid an unauthorised visit to the office of The Independent Newspaper at midnight and attacked the watchman with an iron bar, sprayed him with tear gas, poured some diesel fuel on the electric metre and set it on fire.
September 19, 2003
Mr. Abdoulie Sey, Editor-in-Chief of The Independent, a privately owned bi-weekly arrested.
According to the staff of The Independent, he was arrested by three men from the NIA (the intelligence unit) at about 6pm on 19 September 2003 who took him away with a black Ford Pajero with no registration number displayed on the number plate. He was release four days later.
A group of unidentified people visited Radio 1 FM at about 3 a.m., cleared all the people in the vicinity, and attacked both the watchman and the proprietor before spraying them with tear gas. They poured 22 litres of diesel fuel on the main doors of the studios and set it ablaze.
Few days later, Alieu Bah, a journalist working with the station was the target of an attempted murder, when arsonists bolted the door of his house, poured litters of diesel on it and set it on fire. The attacked that happened at 3:00 am found Mr. Bah and family sleeping in their house.
April 10, 2000
Omar Barrow, a journalist working with Sud FM radio station in The Gambia was brutally shot and killed while covering a student’s demonstration. Omar was killed in the premises of the International Red Cross, while donning his Red Cross Volunteer bib. He was specifically targeted for murder by the Gambian security forces because of his live reports on the brutality meted out to the students by the security forces. Omar’s killers are yet to be brought to justice.
February 5, 1998
Citizen FM, owned by veteran journalist Baboucarr Gaye was arbitrarily closed down by the authorities for broadcasting fraud in the National Intelligence Agency circles. Mr. Gaye and the news editor of Citizen FM, Ebrima Sillah were arrested and detained before the closure was effected. The government justified the closure through a terse press release accusing Mr. Gaye of running a radio station without license. Mr. Gaye was later arraigned in a magistrate court, charged with violating the Telegraphic Act of 1913. The court did not stop at imposing 30 US Dollar fine on Baboucarr but went ahead to confiscate the station’s equipment to the state.
In 2000 station resumed operations after two years of closure. It was closed down again for the second time barely a year into operation. The station’s only crime was to broadcast the election results direct from the counting zones. Since then both Citizen FM and its sister publication, New Citizen remain close.