|Home||Events||Public Statements||World Press Freedom Review||Newsletter & Publications||About IPI||Link Terminal||Contact Us|
World Press Freedom Review
1998 World Press Freedom Review
By Issa A. Mansaray
Since Colonel (Retd.) Yayah Jammeh came to power in a military coup and was elected president on September 26, 1996, his government has been far from comfortable with the media. Although he promised a free media when elected, his governmentís actions towards the media are a clear indication of a government against the media.
Since January 1997, activists and journalists have been restricted, harassed, and some tortured. Some foreign journalists had been forced out of the country. Licence fees for private radio stations and newspapers have been more than doubled, financially crippling the independent media.
On February 5, Baubacar Gaye and Ebrima Sillah, the proprietor and news
editor respectively of Citizen FM radio, were arrested by officials from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and taken to the NIA headquarters for questioning. The following day, NIA officials ordered all staff members to leave the premises of the radio station. NIA officials and more than 12 armed soldiers then sealed off the Citizen FM station.
Gaye and Sillah were arrested few hours after Citizen FM aired a story stating that the NIA Director of Operations Lamin Jabarteh had been sacked, in connection with an alleged counterfeit scandal. An official statement issued by the Ministry of Information in consultation with the Ministry of Justice stated that the broadcasting of rumours about the shake-up at NIA was "irresponsible and deceptive" on the part of the two journalists and also violated both national security interests and the conditions under which radio and newspaper licenses are issued. In a press release issued on February 9, Baboucar Gaye said: "Up to my release, on 9 February 1998, the only denial I received was from Lamin Jabarteh. He confirmed, however, that his services with the NIA were terminated."
Sillah was released on February 7 and Gaye on February 9 after spending 96 hours in detention. Gaye was ordered to report daily at the NIA headquarters in Banjul. On February 10, he was detained again and released on February 12. This time officials charged him with "operating an unlicensed radio station." Gaye said he was "charged under a colonial law of operating a radio station without a licence. I am still to be taken to court, but the government received the 1997 licence fee from me on Monday 16 February, yet the station is still closed and under armed guard, meaning that the New Citizen newspaper which I published has also been locked out of its offices, thereby literally closing the paper down."
He was brought to court on March 5 and charged under a law dating back to 1913, the Telegraph Station Act, which states: "if any person establishes a telegraph station without a licence...he shall be liable to a fine of 1,000 dalasis or imprisonment, with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding 12 months and either case is liable to forfeit any apparatus for telegraphy installed or worked without a licence."
This is viewed as another attempt by the Jammeh government to frustrate the radio stationís effort to develop an independent news-gathering capacity. The governmentís own radio station immediately started re-broadcasting BBC programmes, which were previously unique to Citizen FM.
Citizen FM is not the governmentís only target. The Daily Observer, one of the
leading two dailies, has always been in the governmentís bad books. On April 26, Gambian immigration officials, the National Intelligence Agents and police raided the Daily Observer newspaper office while the paper was being produced, searching for editors and reporters who had already left. The authorities arrested seven members of the newspaperís technical staff and detained them without charges.
The government is not pleased with the Daily Observerís critical reporting. In 1995, President Jammeh deported the paperís founder, Liberian journalist Kenneth Betce. On August 30 this year, its managing director Theophilus George, editor-in-chief Baba Galeh Jallow and news editor Demba Jawo were arrested. The following day reporter Gheran Sengore was also picked up. Authorities were angered when the newspaper reported the collapse of the wall behind Jammehís state house after heavy rainfall revealing armoured cars and an armoury. They questioned the journalists about the State house story which they say was a breach of security. l
IPI provides links to other Internet sites only for the convenience of its visitors. IPI is not responsible for the availability or content of these external sites, nor does IPI endorse, guarantee or warrant the information, services or products available at these sites.