- The Gambia's most outspoken newspaper, 'The Independent', has been prevented from operating for two months and one of the bi-weekly's journalists remains in jail. Meanwhile, Gambian authorities this week extended their crack-down on journalists providing the international press with critical news. Their names were published as traitors in the government press and security forces have summoned several of them.
Police in The Gambia this week summoned contributors and sources for the US-based Web site 'Freedom Newspaper'. Local sources told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today that at least one local journalist was detained in connection with the summonses, and that others may have been picked up by security forces. Calls by CPJ to police officials and Information Minister Neneh Mcdoll-Gaye went unanswered today.
Those summoned were on a list of purported contributors to 'Freedom Newspaper' that was recently posted on the pro-government web site 'Gambia Post', according to 'Freedom Newspaper' editor, Pa Nderry M'bai, a Gambian journalist based in the US. The list posted on 'Gambia Post' read like a list of traitors, in some cases even including their private addresses.
The police summons, which was published today in the pro-government 'Daily Observer', announced that "the Security Services are in possession of the full list of persons who continuously supplied [Mr M'bai] with information, which he used to castigate and vilify the democratically elected government of His Excellency, President Dr Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh."
The Daily Observer also published the entire list, which identifies the names and addresses of dozens of people based inside The Gambia and in the Diaspora. The list includes local journalists as well as government employees who allegedly served as sources. Mr M'bai's home address was also printed in the newspaper.
At least one journalist employed by the state broadcaster 'Gambia Radio and Television Services' (GRTS) was detained and questioned by police today, a local source told CPJ. The journalist, whose name was on the list published by the 'Daily Observer', was released without charge, the source said.
On Wednesday, the 'Daily Observer' published an article alleging that Mr M'bai had leaked the list of contributors himself after announcing that he would support President Jammeh's re-election bid in elections scheduled for October this year. Mr M'bai denied the assertions in an interview with CPJ and in a statement posted on 'Freedom Newspaper'.
"It is outrageous that Gambian authorities are targeting contributors to an independent news site," said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. "This dictatorial attempt to stifle independent reporting comes on the heels of a growing crackdown on the Gambian media," she added.
Gambian journalists already face repressive legislation, along with frequent harassment and threats. Only one and a half year ago, 'The Point' editor Deyda Hydara shot dead in his car while driving home - presumably by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) officers.
Authorities are now holding one journalist, Lamin Fatty, and have arrested two others within the last two months, all working at 'The Independent', The Gambia's most outspoken newspapers, which has been kept shut down since late March.
Mr Fatty has been detained by the NIA since 10 April without due process or access to legal counsel. The government has given no public explanation for Fatty's detention. An NIA investigator, Lamine Saine, told CPJ that Mr Fatty was charged with publishing "false news" but was unable to provide any details of the charge, while Mr Fatty's colleagues say he has not appeared in court since his arrest. Gambian law requires that detainees be brought before a court within 72 hours.
'The Independent' was attacked by Gambian security forces on 28 March, shortly after an alleged coup attempt against President Jammeh. Gambian police sealed off the offices of 'The Independent' and have prevented the paper from operating since then. Senior staff were detained for several weeks and reportedly tortured by NIA agents.
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