- Gambians are mourning the death of their country's seasoned journalist, press freedom advocate and trainer.
Baboucarr Gaye, 56, died at the Medical Research Council in Fajara, 12 km from the capital Banjul on Tuesday after a brief sickness.
Having studied in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, the seasoned broadcaster worked at the national radio before emerging as the ‘BBC’ correspondent in Banjul and beyond.
He pioneered the establishment of the short-lived ‘Senegambia Sun’ newspaper in the early 80s. Before setting up his own media group [‘New Citizen’ and ‘Citizen FM’ in 1995], Gaye had previously worked as an associate editor of ‘The Point’ newspaper.
During his decades of journalistic career, Gaye was synonymous to arrests and detentions principally for defending press freedom and expression.
His popular radio station, ‘Citizen FM‘, was twice illegally shut down by the state for relaying sensitive and uncompromising editorial contents, especially on official corruption.
The station's first closure happened on 5 February 1998 after it had published corruption scandal within the National Intelligence Agency. Angered by the story, the government responded by closing down the station and later dragged the proprietor to the court, accusing him of operating a station without license, an act that contravened the Telegraphic Act of 1913.
In August 1998, a hired foreign magistrate, Willi Inyang, convicted Gaye, imposed minimal fine on him and ordered the confiscation of Citizen's apparatus to the state.
Baboucarr challenged the legality of the judgment at the High Court the late Justice Wallace Grant ruled in his favour on 3 July 2000.
The station was again forcefully shut down by armed military personnel on the night of the October 2001 presidential elections. Gaye's only crime was to broadcast the election results before the national radio announced them.
It is widely believed that Citizen FM had been targeted for broadcasting the translated version of local newspaper contents. The programme had soon caught the attention of most Gambians, much to the anger of the government.
The closure of Citizen has thrown out its sister media [New Citizen] from the newspaper market.
The IFJ Africa Office Director, Gabriel Baglo, describes the death of Baboucarr Gaye as "a great loss to the media fraternity in The Gambia and the West African sub-region as a whole."
In memory of Gaye and his fight for free expression, the regional media watchdog renewed its appeals to The Gambia government to allow the media to operate freely and to end all forms of persecution of journalists.
“Gambian journalists are still being forced into exile or to abandon the profession entirely, because of the repressive nature of the government,” Baglo said, extending condolences to the bereaved family of Gaye who was survived by a wife and four children.
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