Gambia: President Barrow’s threats against activist distasteful

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is deeply concerned about verbal attacks and threats issued on live television by President Adama Barrow against activist Madi Jobarteh and urges the Gambian leader to ensure Jobarteh’s safety and protection.

President Barrow won The Gambia’s 2021 presidential election to secure a second five-year after a shock 2016 victory against long-serving autocrat, Yahyah Jammeh. The country has since witnessed impressive improvements on the democracy and freedom of expression fronts.

However, in an incident that goes against the recent progressive trend, President Barrow verbally attacked and threatened Jobarteh, one of his government’s fiercest critics in a live broadcast. The president appeared irritated as he complained about the activist’s media activities. He was addressing leaders of various Muslim groups who had paid a courtesy call on him at the State House to wish him well during the Eid-ul-Fitr celebration.

Speaking in a local language, President Barrow accused the activist of seeking to set the country on fire, adding that media organisations that offer him their platforms are harming the country.

“There are people who are bent on tormenting the Government; to criticize the Government in order to bring violence in the country and one of them is Madi Jobarteh. He is among those who wish to set the country ablaze. He is a person who wants to bring violence into the country. Everyone should be careful of him. My Government should take a stand on him,” the President reportedly said.

The activist, who is a regular guest on several media platforms, particularly radio, issued a threat alert immediately after the President’s speech.

“I hereby put all Gambians and relevant national & international bodies on notice. My life is currently in danger, threatened by the President of the Republic Adama Barrow. From today, the safety or destruction of my life is in the hands of the President. I consider the President’s remark as a death threat,” Jobarteh said in the alert.

The activist followed the statement up with a petition to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Mrs Irene Khan, over the threats and asked that President Barrow be held responsible for his safety.

“I wish to report that I feel threatened and unsafe anymore in the Gambia and hope your organization will take this alert with the attention it deserves to hold the President and the Government of the Gambia accountable and ensure the safety of my family and my life,” Jobarteh wrote in his petition dated May 2, 2022.

“I wish to submit to you a video and its translation (both attached) of part of the speech of the President of the Republic of the Gambia, Mr. Adama Barrow, as he directly and publicly directs verbal attacks against my person,” Jobarteh said in his petition to Mrs. Irene Khan, calling on her outfit to hold the President and the Government of the Gambia accountable for his safety and that of his family.

Speaking to the MFWA on phone, Jobarteh said he has been very critical of President Barrow’s government and outspoken in demanding accountability in respect of a number of public interest issues bordering on corruption. He added that the President’s accusations were intended to stigmatise, isolate and intimidate him.

President Barrow’s comments have been condemned by a number of organisations and individuals in The Gambia.

The Gambia Press Union, MWA’s partner organisation in the country, was particularly worried about the President’s criticism of the media for granting Jobarteh space for his activism.

“Giving voices to those who hold the government to account is fundamental to the media’s watchdog role which is guaranteed by the Gambian Constitution,” the GPU said in a statement signed by its President, Muhammed Bah.

“We are reminding the president to uphold his responsibility to protect press freedom and freedom of expression as guaranteed by the laws of the Gambia,” GPU advised.

The MFWA joins its partner in The Gambia in urging President Barrow to demonstrate tolerance for freedom of expression and appreciate the role of the media and outspoken citizens like Jobarteh play in fighting corruption. We find the President’s posture inappropriate and tantamount to an attempt at censoring both the activist and the media. We call on him to ensure the safety and security of Jobarteh and that no media house is victimised for offering its platform to the activist.

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