Press Freedom Suffers Another Setback: As Two Leading Newspapers Threatened with Closure, Two Journalists Charged
Monday, September 17, 2012
Unfortunately, this development is coming less than a week when two journalists, Mr. Babucarr Ceesay, a law student at the West African Institute of Insurance (WAII), and an executive member of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), a human rights journalist and a freelance writer for Renewed African and several other news agencies, was invited to pick his permit for a peaceful demonstrations in the evening of Thursday 6th September 2012. He was detained in various police cells: Banjul, Kotu, and Kairaba Police Stations before they were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony.The second journalist , who was also detained in various police stations before charges , was Abubacarr Saidykhan. Like Ceesay, he too is a law student at WAII. He, like his colleague, before pursuing the law course, was a journalist working for the Foroyaa newspaper. Saidykhan was one of the finest court journalists and has covered several high profile cases. At one point, Saidykhan was arrested along with the famous seven journalists who were tried in 2009 and charged with sedition, though the charges were dropped against him later. Abubacarr has since briefly stopped writing for the local newspapers, and he is pursuing a law course at WAII.
The reasons of the arrest of the two journalists have something to do with a pursuance of a permit to hold demonstrations against the killing of the nine convicted prisoners on the death row. If that is anything to go by, why the arrest of the two?
Section 25 (1) d, of the constitution of the Republic of The Gambia did allow freedom to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and without arms. So if the crime of the two journalist is “seeking permission to hold demonstrations,” then the state has no right whatsoever to seize the constitutional rights of the two journalists, which is their rights to free movement and associations under the same constitutional clauses.
Such unwarranted arrests and detentions are violations of the very fundamentals of our constitution.
Babucarr and Abubacarr were both denied visitors, be it their immediate families, lawyer or colleagues. Such denials are tantamount to a gross violation of the rights of the detained persons, as we are not under any state of emergency.
Less than one month, to be precise, on 14 August 2012, the state securities closed down an FM radio staion at Sinchu Alhagie. Reasons of the closure of that FM was not clear, as the only explanation we got from the owner is that he was simply asked to go off the air. Several weeks later, the proprietor of the radio, in a meeting with GPU executive, told the GPU that he did not know why his radio was closed down. “Men in plain-clothes came to my radio at about 11pm and said the radio should go off the air, as the order was from the top,” he said.
He stated that he did not know who that top they were referring to was. “ This is not the first time I am ordered to go off the air,” he said. Is that not a setback on press freedom in The Gambia? For God’s sake! Media houses should be closed down according to the laws of the land, otherwise our records would be bad.
Taranga FM Radio used to be a community radio but of late, that status has changed to a commercial radio. The radio has introduced the review of the local newspapers after the Citizen FM Radio several years ago. Taranga had, among other things, very important programmes such as Mbori-bi, a weekly live interactive dialogue on current issues. The last one they had before they were closed was one with a former PPP minister and strong critic of the APRC regime, commonly known as OJ, and particularly President Jammeh. Many believe that that was one of the contributing factors to its recent closure. One very keen listener told this column that “the closure of the Taranga FM is not affecting anyone but, they, the uneducated, who cannot read and write. The kind of programmes aired go far away in creating awareness. The system is bent on keeping us in darkness so that they continue to milk us”
Taranga FM has more than 15 members of staff, all of whom had dependants (minimum five). So, what benefit is the closure to the state? It is those staff and their families who would suffer. Other radio stations like Citizen FM, and SUD FM were all closed the same way the Taranga radio was closed. The closure is arbitrary because they were not closed by any court order. Such are not in line with freedom of expression and the press.
Now the visit of the three people who said they were from the Office of the President, if true, then that is another setback on press freedom in this country. On the other hand, if not true, it is still another setback on the press freedom in our beloved country.
Media Watch is calling on the government of The Gambia to stand by the media and defend press freedom. The freedom of the press is in the interest of not only the media but the country at large. The Daily News is a legally registered business entity, and the registering authorities are the Registrar General under the offices of the Attorney General. If anything like the closure, Media Watch believes that a letter should come from them, and as we are very law abiding, we would put our pens down. Or when the newspaper did really commit a crime, the courts are there too to close them down.
For any person to walk into a business entity like newspapers and other media houses and order them to close down without a letter from the registrar general offices or from the courts is tantamount to a gross violations of press freedom. The media should be one of a very responsible one, and where it fails to meet that, Media Watch totally agrees that it should be corrected but by the laws of the land.
Media Watch feels that the visitors at the Offices of The Daily News on Friday the 14 September 2012 , may not have come from the Offices of the President , because that is an hournarable office and such people would have shown a proper identity and with a letter directing the closure of the newspaper. Government should be on the watch-out for people who might go under the pretext of coming from the Office of the President. We have seen some people who were tried for impersonation of the president. Could it not be one of those, since the identities were not shown?
Media Watch flips into the pages of history books and picks just a few cases of violations against the media:
In March of 2012, a few contempt of court cases landed few of our colleagues in jail at least for days and weeks for others. Our own Lamin Njie, deputy editor –in- Chief, AbdulhamidAdiamoh of Today newspaper and Sidiq of the Daily Observer. 2010 and 2011 were also not good experience for us, the journalists.
June 15, 2009, seven journalists were arrested and questioned by the NIA in relation to a statement the GPU issued, criticizing President Jammeh’s utterances on murdered journalist, Deyda Hydara. The seven, included the Vice- President of the GPU, SarataJabbi-Dibba, were charged with seditious publication and defamation. Those arrested included Bai Emil Touray and Pa Modou Faal, both executive members of the GPU, Ebrima Sawaneh and Pap Saine of The Point Newspaper and Sam Sarr and AbubacarrSaidyKnah of the Foroyaa Newspaper.
June 2009, The Editor-in-Chief of Today Newspaper, AbdulhamidAdiamoh, and Sub-editor, Edward Carayol, were arrested after an article in the paper’s Wednesday edition reported “that the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Marie Saine-Firdaus, and other senior government officials had been fired. MrCarayol was released on bail, while MrAdiamoh remained under detention for three days. He was then charged with publishing false and broadcasting information and subsequently sentenced to a fine of D50,000 (USD2,174) in default to serve one year in jail.
July 2008, Abdul Hamid Adiamoh, Editor -in-Chief of Today newspaper, was arrested, charged and sentenced to a fine of D20,000 (USD865) in default to serve 6 months in prison for his failure to pay income and sales tax.
March 28, 2007, Fatou Jaw Manneh, a former reporter of the Daily Observer , residing in the USA, was arrested by the NIA upon arrival at the Banjul International Airport. She came from the USA to visit her family and to pay tribute to her father who had earlier passed away. She was charged with sedition which followed her conviction and was sentenced to a fine of D250, 000 (USD 10, 869) or to serve two years in jail.
2006, Njameh Bah, a reporter of The Point, was attacked in Bakoteh, about 18km from the capital, Banjul, and severely beaten by her attackers.
July 2006, Ebrima B. Manneh, a reporter with the Daily Observer, was declared missing by his family. Manneh was last seen on July 7 by his colleagues. He is also believed to be in the hands of the state, though the state has since denied that.
April 10, 2006, Lamin Fatty, a reporter with the defunct Independent Newspaper, was arrested and detained at the headquarters of the NIA. Fatty spent almost two months in detention before he was finally charged with “false publication”. And he was subsequently convicted and fined fifty thousand dalasi(D50,000).
December 2005, RamatoulieCharreh, who was then with the Daily Observer, was ruffled by the police when participants at the international conference attempted to visit the site where the late Deyda Hydara was gunned down.
December 16th 2004,the editor and co-founder of The Point Newspaper, Deyda Hydara, was brutally killed by three bullets at the wheel of his car just few meters away from a police depot. Hydara’s killing coincided with the 13th anniversary of the founding of The Point. The two other staff of The Point who were inside Hydara’s car at the time of the incident, Nyansarang Jobe and Ida Jagne, also sustained serious injuries. Nyansarang was shot on the leg while Ida sustained severe bruises.
August 2004, the house of the BBC-Banjul correspondent, Ebrima Sillah, in Jambur, about 24 km from the capital ,Banjul, was attacked by arsonists. They forced open a sitting room window, poured some diesel fuel on the floor and set it on fire. Sillah had to escape through a window but everything in the house was burnt to ashes, including a laptop that was given to him by the BBC.
April 10, 2000, Omar Barrow, a journalist working with Sud FM radio station in The Gambia, was brutally shot and killed while covering students’ demonstration. Omar was killed in the premises of the International Red Cross, while donning his Red Cross Volunteer bib.
In 2000, the station resumed operations after two years of closure. It was closed down again for the second time barely a year into operation. The station’s only crime was to broadcast the election results direct from the counting centers. Since then, both Citizen FM and its sister publication, New Citizen, remained closed to the time, he, Gaye, died.February 5, 1998, Citizen FM, owned by veteran journalist, Baboucarr Gaye, was arbitrarily closed down by the authorities. He and the news editor of Citizen FM, Ebrima Sillah, were arrested and detained before the closure was effected.
The government justified the closure through a terse press release, accusing Mr. Gaye of running a radio station without a license.