Abdoulaye Sey, editor-in-chief of the bi-weekly Independent newspaper, was on Friday September 19, 2003 arrested by plainclothes security agents from his office in Banjul, capital of The Gambia. More than 72 hours later, his whereabouts are still not known. No reasons have also been given for his arrest.
According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-Gambia sources, Sey was picked up at about 6:00 pm and taken away by three people in a black jeep without a registration plate. Although Sey’s “disappearance” bears all the
hallmarks of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), they have denied having custody of him. The police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) have also told his wife and colleagues that they have no idea of his whereabouts.
The MFWA is deeply concerned about the failure of the Gambian security agencies to acknowledge custody of journalist Sey. We are also worried about the worsening legal and institutional conditions for media practice and freedom of expression in the country.
In May last year, the Gambian National Assembly (which has only three members from the opposition) passed into law, the widely discredited National Media Commission (NMC) Act, No 7 of 2002. The Act confers wide-ranging powers of sanction and closure, including provisions to register media houses and media practitioners, and to penalize, fine, suspend and even sentence journalists to terms of imprisonment.
On Thursday, September 11, the vice-chair of the NMC, Ramzia Diab (who is also President Jammeh’s nominated member in the country’s legislature) ordered all independent media houses and practitioners to register with her commission immediately. She indicated that failure to register would be tantamount to an offence liable to fines of not less than 10,000 Gambia dalasis (about US $335) in the case of media houses, and half that amount for individual journalists. In addition, all previous registration documents would be deemed to have been suspended, Ms. Diab threatened.
The MFWA calls on the government of President Yahyah Jammeh to guarantee Sey’s safety, investigate his whereabouts and ensure his immediate and unconditional release. MFWA also appeals to President Jammeh’s government to respect the libertarian intent of Article 207 of the country’s 1997 Constitution, which provides for a free and independent media regime in the Republic of The Gambia.