- Musa Saidykhan, chief editor of The Gambia's harassed 'The Independent' newspaper, was detained and later released by the National Intellegence Agency (NIA) over an article describing African editors' solidarity with their Gambian colleagues. The detention caused continental-wide fear, as the NIA is suspected of liquidating Gambian editor Deyda Hydara last year.
Mr Saidykhan on Friday afternoon sent a brief mail to afrol News, saying "I am safe and finally released." His detention the day before, on 27 October, by the NIA had caused panic by fellow editors and journalists all over Africa, having the NIA's brutal track record in mind.
What made the detention especially worrying was the supposed reason for the questioning by state intelligence agents. Mr Saidykhan had published an article about his participation in the foundation of the West African Editors' Forum in Conakry (3-5 October) and the foundation of the (pan)African Editors' Forum in Johannesburg (15-17 October). At both occasions, African editors condemned the unsolved December 2004 murder of prominent Gambian editor Deyda Hydara.
Mr Saidykhan in the 24 October edition of 'The Independent' simply gave a detailed summary of the attention the Hydara case had been given in Conakry and in Johannesburg. afrol News editor Rainer Chr Hennig, who participated in both forums, notes that "Musa's description of the events is correct. The killing of Mr Hydara, supposedly by Gambian state agents, was at the focus in both conferences."
In Johannesburg, where a large photo of the slain editor stood out as a sole lighthouse from the podium, delegates and South African President Thabo Mbeki observed one minute of silence in memory of Mr Hydara. President Mbeki in front of the united African press promised Mr Saidykhan he would look into the issue and discuss it with Gambian Dictator Yahya Jammeh.
Mr Saidykhan during the two events was actively and successfully working to lobby African editors to have a special focus on The Gambia, one of the sub-Saharan countries where attacks on the free press currently are most violent. It is assumed that this work - thoroughly described in his article - was assessed as unpatriotic by the NIA, which insisted on interrogating him on Thursday and Friday last week without naming reasons.
The relatively new editor of 'The Independent' rapidly has come in the main focus of the NIA due to his insistence of defending press freedom in The Gambia. His newspaper has been attacked several times by state agents, seeing its offices and printing facilities arsoned at two occasions.
With no printing press and other facilities not daring to print 'The Independent' due to the high risk of a new attack, the newspaper now only is distributed on normal DIN A4 paper. Nevertheless, it remains the most sold Gambian newspaper, demonstrating the hunger of Gambian citizens for unbiased news.
Mr Saidykhan and his colleagues however pay a high price for their daring reporting. The editor in Conakry told afrol News that nobody takes the risk of staying at the offices after 22:00 hours. Too often, one had observed cars without number plates - generally believed to belong to NIA officials - spying on journalists. Being kidnapped by such a car often means heavy beating or even an assassination attempt. Nobody feels safe.
Given the harsh climate in The Gambia, the report of Mr Saidykhan's detention caused great concern by editors all over Africa. Representatives of the West African and the Panafrican editor forums have strongly protested the interrogation. Also Director Ann Cooper of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week sent a strong-worded protest to Gambian authorities.
"We are very concerned about the apparent harassment of a journalist who is properly drawing attention to the problem of impunity in The Gambia," Ms Cooper said. "Gambian authorities should stop harassing Musa Saidykhan and instead devote their attention to solving the crimes [against the press, such as the murder of Mr Hydara]," she added.
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