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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Charges dropped against Gambian journalists, but major newspapers still closed

Press freedom remains under threat in Gambia 

By: Naomi Hunt, Senior Press Freedom Adviser

Gambia's Al Hadji Yahya Jammeh attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island September 27, 2009. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi urged African and South American leaders on Saturday to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

VIENNA, Oct 24, 2012 – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh ordered the attorney general to drop charges brought against two journalists after they applied to hold a peaceful demonstration, local journalists told IPI.  However, two newspapers ordered closed on Sep. 14 remain shut.

Africa Review correspondent Babucarr Ceesay and freelance journalist Abubacarr Saidykhan were detained by police on Sep. 6 after they filed an application to hold a peaceful demonstration against The Gambia’s recent execution of nine death row inmates. After several days in custody, during which time police searched their homes and the homes of relatives for evidence of wrongdoing, the pair were released on bail.

They were subsequently charged with inciting violence and conspiring to commit a felony, they told IPI. Ceesay was additionally charged with seditious publication for his work for the Africa Review; however, he was never told which articles were allegedly seditious.

Since their initial arrest, the journalists have repeatedly been called in for appointments with the police and other authorities in Banjul, the capital. Saidykhan told IPI that he personally had official appointments two or three times a week, with each one lasting up to two or three hours – and it has been six weeks.

“The decision to drop charges against Babucarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan comes better late than never,” said IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills. “We call on President Jammeh to take this opportunity and allow The Daily News and The Standard newspapers to reopen. Each day they remain off the newsstands is a further indictment of press freedom in The Gambia.”

As IPI reported, The Daily News and The Standard newspapers were ordered shut by plainclothes members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) who visited the newspapers’ offices on Sep. 14. Editors at the papers said they were verbally informed that the directive had come from the president’s office. Since that time, however, members of management have not managed to speak with either NIA officials or the minister responsible for presidential affairs.