The bi-weekly Independent newspaper in Banjul, The Gambia, was on Saturday, October 18, 2003, attacked by unidentified arsonists. The assailants, armed with tear-gas and petrol, also assaulted the newspaper’s security guard before they set the premises on fire.
Abdoulie Sey, editor-in-chief of the paper, informed Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-The Gambia that a formal report has been made to the Gambia Police. No arrests have yet been made.
Although the attackers did not acknowledge any direct motive, Sey suspects an orchestrated attempt to intimidate and silence the newspaper. The Gambia Press Union (GPU), recalling “a similar arson attack on Radio 1 FM in August 2001, which case was never investigated”, has expressed concern about the failure (and apparent lack of commitment) of the Gambia Police to investigate and apprehend the perpetrators of the latest attack on journalists and the media in the country.
The MFWA is worried about the recent spate of attacks on the Independent and its staff. Indeed, the paper has been the focus of persistent attacks since it was established in 1999.
Barely one month after its appearance on the newsstands, N. B. Daffeh, a reporter of the paper, was arrested by an officer of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Shortly afterwards, on July 23, 1999, the paper was closed down.
The then managing editor, Alagi Yorro, editor-in-chief, Baba Galleh Jallow, and reporter N. B. Daffeh were arrested and detained for three days at the NIA offices in Banjul. The three were again arrested in December 1999, and detained for one day by officers of the Serious Crime Unit. They were subsequently charged with libel against the President. Two secretaries of state were also quoted as accusing the paper of “always opposing” the government and being “irresponsible” and deliberate provocateurs.
Seven months after, in the morning of July 25, 2000, Jallow and Alhagie Mbye, another reporter of the paper, were picked up by plainclothed security agents and detained at the Serious Crime Unit of the Banjul Police Headquarters. Although no official charges were brought against them, the police queried the two journalists about a story they had published in the July 4 – 6, 2000 edition of the paper entitled, Hunger Strike Reported at Mile Two Prisons. They were only released after they had each satisfied a bail condition in the sum of D25,000 (about US$2,500 at the time).
Just last month, on September 19, 2003, Aboulaye Sey was picked up and detained incommunicado until late Monday, September 22. In spite of official denials about their knowledge of his whereabouts, it turned out that Sey had been incarcerated at the NIA detention centre in Banjul. Although no official charges were preferred against him, Sey alleged that the NIA agents tortured him and threatened to kill him if he did not stop being criticical of the Yahyah Jammeh government.
The MFWA considers the incessant harassment, arrests and physical attacks on journalists and the media in The Gambia as a regrettable manifestation of intolerance of alternative views. The current torching of the premises of the Independent newspaper is also an attack on media freedom, freedom of expression and human rights.
We urge you to protest the inhospitable media climate in The Gambia and condemn the attack on the Independent newspaper.