The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International News Safety Institute (IFJ) today called for the urgent release of jailed journalists in Gambia, adding their voices to growing global protest at the press freedom crisis in the country after judges jailed six journalists for two years last week because they had supported a statement by the country’s press union criticising the government.
“Intolerant government has created a culture of neglect for free speech and human rights,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The jailing of journalists simply because they express dissent is a sign of a country betraying the fundamental principles of democracy. These colleagues should be released without delay.”
The journalists jailed include three members of the Gambian Press Union, an IFJ affiliate, and two reporters from The Point newspaper and one working for Foroyaa newspaper. According to agency reports, the court in the capital Banjul sentenced them to two years in prison and fines of 250,000 dalasi ($9,700) each, said the source, who was present at the hearing.
Seven were arrested in June after the Gambia Press Union issued a statement critical of the government's treatment of journalists, especially after the killing in 2004 of veteran reporter Deyda Hydara. One of the seven was later released.
“This was a trial that showed the dead hand of political interference in the honest work of journalists,” said Rodney Pinder, Director of INSI. “This action, added to the killing that preceded it, underlines the continuing threat to the safety of all news media who are trying to do their jobs, often in circumstances of great danger."
INSI and the IFJ are also calling on democratic governments and world financial organisations to review their development aid to countries like Gambia where journalists work under threat of violence or imprisonment.
The IFJ and INSI said that the decision to prosecute the journalists on charges of seditious publication and criminal defamation for republishing the press union statement was inexplicable and vindictive. It was, they said, an attempt to “intimidate the entire community of Gambian journalists.”
The two groups said that there were also urgent humanitarian concerns over the medical condition of one of the journalists, Pap Saine, who needs medical attention for a heart condition and collapsed in court at one stage during the trial.
Further Information: Aidan White, IFJ: +32 478258669. Rodney Pinder, INSI: +44 7734 709267