IFJ Fears for Journalists Held in Gambia as Police Target Newspaper amid Rumours of Coup

The International Federation of Journalists today protested strongly after police and security forces raided and closed down a newspaper in Gambia in what it describes as “intolerable intimidation” of the country’s free press.

Gambian police arrested the managing editor of The Independent newspaper, Madi Ceesay the editor in chief Musa SaidyKhan, the assistant editor Sulayman Makalo and a dozen of the paper’s editorial staff. The two senior staff were kept in custody when the rest of the staff were released late yesterday.

“This newspaper has been the victim of attacks by unknown arsonists and now we see the hand of official interference,” said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Regional Director for Africa. “It is intolerable intimidation of the free press in Gambia.”

The paper’s journalists were rounded up yesterday by detectives and the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) of the Gambia Police Force. The editor in chief had been picked up earlier by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and PIU during Monday night. The offices of the paper have been sealed off and nobody is allowed to enter the premises.

The raids and arrests come only days after the government announced that an attempted coup plot was reported to have been discovered in the country and several military officers and political leaders have been arrested for questioning.

But the IFJ is concerned that the raid on the newspaper has more to do with stifling the voice of impartial journalism in a country where media have suffered in the wake of political instability. An IFJ mission to the Gambia last December, marking the one-year anniversary of the assassination of the editor of The Point newspaper, Deyda Hydara, concluded that media are under siege.

“Arsonists set fire to Radio One FM in 2001,” said Baglo. “They burnt the printing machine of the Independent Newspaper, leaving behind a gun that was eventually surrendered to the police. They burnt the house of the BBC correspondent, Ebrima Sillah and death threats have been made against reporters. There has been continuous intimidation of journalists by the police and security forces.” The IFJ said that a woman reporter with the Daily Observer had been assaulted by police on December 16, at the site where Deyda Hydra was murdered. All of the crimes remain unpunished.

The IFJ has condemned these latest arrests calling them arbitrary and is calling on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to intervene to release the detained journalists and also to ensure that there are no improper attempts to force them to reveal their sources.

“When journalists are taken like this, we fear that more violations of their rights will follow as politicians try to settle their own scores,” said Baglo. “We must ensure that our colleagues are freed, unharmed and without delay.”

For further information contact the IFJ : +221 842 01 42

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries