The Gambia: Months after assaulting journalists, ruling party guards still walking free

Nearly three months after private security guards of the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) assaulted journalists Malick D. Cham, Sanneh Samba and Pa Ousman Joof, the Gambian authorities are yet to bring the perpetrators to book.

The three journalists had gone on assignment to cover the swearing-in ceremony of the mayor and councillors of Banjul, Gambia’s capital city, on May 31, 2023, when they were attacked.

The first victims, Malick Cham and Sanneh Samba, presenter and camera operator respectively for  the online media outlet, Jamano, were leaving the swearing-in ceremony when they saw an NPP politician arguing with a man. Samba began filming the scene but one of the politician’s security guards suddenly knocked his camera down, damaging it in the process.

As Samba tried to explain to the security guards that they were doing their job and should be allowed to proceed, he was hit on the waist with an electric shock baton, while another guard punched Cham in the face, causing his mouth to bleed. A third guard splashed a bottle of water on Cham and a fourth one hit him on the nose with an electric shock baton.

Cham was subsequently chased by the guards after he attempted to run away and only escaped even more punishment when some bystanders intervened.

The founder and coordinator of Gambia Talents TV, Pa Ousman Joof, who witnessed the attack, was also physically assaulted when he attempted to film the incident. The guards held him until the police intervened.

Cham later reported the May 31, 2023, incident to a local police station and received treatment at a local hospital.

Gambia Talents TV and Jamano subsequently rejected an apology from NPP deputy spokesperson Seedy Njie on behalf of the party following the incident. The journalists believed the NPP’s apology was insincere as it didn’t mention their names. Although the NPP said they intended to engage the journalists and the GPU to address the issue, the victims say there was no follow-up on that promise.

“It’s been almost three months and up to now we have nothing. Although we reported the incident to the police headquarters in Banjul, the matter was referred to a smaller police station which is also saying that the matter is above them. Since 2016, I don’t recall any case of attacks against journalists being redressed, and since the attack, I have been very careful in my movements,” Cham told the MFWA in a conversation.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has observed that most of the attacks against journalists perpetrated by political parties and the police force in The Gambia end up not being investigated, leaving accountability unsatisfied. The identities of the perpetrators of the above assault are in no doubt. Therefore, nothing other than the culture of indifference to violence against journalists can explain the lack of accountability over two months after the incident.

We, therefore, call on the authorities to end that culture of impunity by condemning the attack and bringing the perpetrators to book.

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