- Police shut down The Gambia's most independent newspaper, 'The Independent', this morning, arresting its brave editor, Musa Saidykhan. Mr Saidykhan is held by the infamous Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which is known to practice torture and assumed to have murdered Gambian editor Deyda Hydara, something Mr Saidykhan relentlessly has informed the international community about.
According to the Toronto-based Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), 'The Independent' in Banjul this morning was attacked by armed NIA agents. Staff were forced to vacate the office, which was then surrounded by armed guards. Editor Saidykhan has been arrested, and is in custody at NIA headquarters in Banjul, "but no charges have been laid yet," according to CJFE. Police authorities have 72 hours before charges must be laid.
Managing editor and publisher of 'The Independent', Alagi Yorro Jallow, spoke to CJFE from New York today, where he has been trying to gather news of his staff. He said, "I'm very worried because I'm not there. They are my employees and they have committed no crime." Mr Jallow is not a part of the outspoken newspaper's editorial department, which is headed by Mr Saidykhan.
Editor Saidykhan had also been detained and interrogated previously on 27 October 2005. That detention was believed to have been in connection with questions Mr Saidykhan raised about the killing of prominent Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara during a summit of African editor in Johannesburg, attended by South African President Thabo Mbeki. During that meeting, President Mbeki promised to raise questions surrounding press freedom in The Gambia with Banjul authorities, something that probably caused the detention of the editor of 'The Independent'.
Mr Jallow told the Canadian press freedom group he was "concerned for Saidykhan's safety". Mr Jallow himself has experienced detentions all too often, having been arrested twelve times. He also witnessed numerous attacks against his newspaper including one in April 2004, in which several staff were wounded and the office and printing equipment owned by the paper was destroyed in an arson attack. Again, the NIA is suspected to have been behind that attack.
Although there is no word yet about the cause of the arrest and the closing of the newspaper, 27 Gambians were arrested last week over an alleged coup plot, and there are concerns that these actions may be related. 'The Independent' has been a constant critic of government corruption, and remains the only truly independent newspaper in The Gambia besides 'The Point', which had been headed by editor Hydara until his assassination. 'The Independent' during the last two years has developed into The Gambia's most outspoken government critic.
The closure of 'The Independent' and the arrest of Mr Saidykhan have already caused protests from press freedom groups and media around the world. CJFE President Arnold Amber today honoured 'The Independent' staff as being brave to "have persevered against years of persecution by the government." Mr Amber added that "we are outraged at the actions of the police and we urge the Gambian government to ensure that Mr Saidykhan is released immediately and unconditionally."
afrol News editor Rainer Chr Hennig today expressed his outrage at this "new unlawul attack on the Gambian press." Mr Saidykhan was described as "a dear colleague who is utterly aware of the threats to his security given his bravery in his day-to-day work. Gambian authorities should finally understand that they do more damage to their international reputation by attacking the press than by letting Mr Saidykhan do his work as a journalist," Mr Hennig added.
The government of President Yahya Jammeh - who came to power in a 1993 military coup - has intensified its campaigns against the opposition, media and possible alternative voices within its own ranks during the last year. President Jammeh is preparing for his re-election later this year. Several opposition leaders have been arrested and the government spoke of a mysterious "coup attempt" last week, which was used to arrest several army officers believed to be sceptical to Mr Jammeh.
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