See also:
» 22.09.2010 - ECOWAS torture case against The Gambia nears an end
» 08.07.2009 - CPJ calls on Gambia to end media hostilities
» 18.06.2009 - Opposition leader calls for the release of journos
» 02.06.2009 - US senators petition Gambia in missing journalist's case
» 24.04.2009 - ECOWAS asked to intervene on the missing journalist case
» 16.12.2008 - RSF criticises continuing impunity in Gambia
» 19.08.2008 - Gambian journalist found guilty of sedition
» 18.06.2008 - Gambia's ex-minister becomes media manager

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Gambia | Senegal
Media | Human rights

AU Summit: Gambia bars press freedom forum

afrol News, 22 June - The government of The Gambia has once again demonstrated its unfriendly media colours after it had barred a forum on freedom of expression in its territory. A coalition of African free exchange organisations was refused to hold the said forum in Banjul as part of the scheduled meeting of African Union (AU) heads of state summit that kicks off on 25 June. The forum thus shifted to the next door country, Senegal, where free speech is being guaranteed.

"Since we are prevented from meeting in The Gambia, I would propose that we issue a strong statement to denounce this arbitrariness," said prominent gender cum media activist, Amie Joof-Cole, herself a native of The Gambia exiled in Senegal.

The recommendations or communiqués that emanated from the Dakar meeting would be filtered down to the AU heads of state, meeting at the same time in Banjul. Media watchdogs said there is need to map out a consistent and aggressive campaign strategy as a way of sending signals to the likes of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, whose government succeeded in silencing independent media through killing, arson attacks, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention and threats.

The Dakar meeting clearly demonstrates the high level determination among the coalition members. The forum will not only examine the main obstacles of free expression in Africa, but it will also seek ways to effectively use the Gambia-based African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Peer Review Mechanism to press for freedom of expression.

The coalition - dubbed Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) - expressed concern about the dwindling state of freedom of expression and press in parts of Africa, as arbitrary arrest, detention, repression and threats continue to loom over journalists. Besides, many African governments have criminalised journalistic work and free expression through repressive legislations.

Media watchdogs have blamed the AU for holding its 7th summit in a country whose President was named among the world's worst "predators of press freedom". The Jammeh government was also grilled for clamping down on the independent press after it had purportedly foiled an attempted coup two months ago. Few months ago, Gambian security officers arbitrarily arrested the editor, manager and a reporter of the bi-weekly newspaper 'The Independent' as well as sealed the paper's offices without a court order. The reporter was charged with publishing false story, and the two others were later released on bail.

Although the government denied inflicting tortures on detainees, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in May proved this wrong by publishing pictures of the brutal tortures meted out to a journalist by Gambian security guards. Media watchdogs also voiced their anger at the government of The Gambia for illegally hacking the website of a critical online publication, 'Freedom Newspaper', publishing the names of its subscribers and contributors before arresting them.

"Why should we allow a buffoon President to make life terribly difficult for its citizens?" questioned Kwame Kari Kari, executive director of the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) at a recent launch of Trust Africa in Dakar.

According to International Freedom of Exchange (IFEX), NAFEO has described Eritrea, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zimbabwe as the other "hot spots" in Africa regarding press freedom. NAFEO has already appealed to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to use his influence within the AU to persuade leaders of press violating countries to respect and protect freedom of press and expression.

In collaboration with human rights groups, media and civil society organisations, NAFEO is planning to launch pressure on African governments to free detained or imprisoned individuals for expressing their right to speak freely as well as repeal laws that criminalise press offences. Notable among the organisers of the Dakar forum are also Article 19, MFWA, the Media Institute for Southern Africa and the West Africa Journalists Association.

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