- The most outspoken newspaper in The Gambia, 'The Independent', still is prevented from reopening its premises and produce newspapers. Two of the three journalists held detained without charges for almost one month have been released and the editor had been promised that the paper would be allowed to publish. Police officers however still prevent 'Independent' staff from entering their premises.
Two vanloads of police officers prevented 'The Independent' from reopening yesterday and briefly detained an employee who came to unlock the offices of the Gambian private newspaper. The police action came despite statements from National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and other government officials that the paper would be allowed to publish following a month-long ban, local reporters told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
A journalist from 'The Independent', Lamin Fatty, has been in NIA custody without charge since 10 April. Mr Fatty's detention is seen in connection with an article headlined "23 'Coup Plotters' Arrested," which appeared in 'The Independent' on 24 March. Local journalists believe his arrest was linked to the story, although authorities have offered no official explanation. The story incorrectly reported that former Interior Minister Samba Bah, who is also a former head of the NIA, was among those arrested in the wake of a purported coup attempt. The paper subsequently ran Mr Bah's response and its own apology.
On 28 March, Gambian security agents sealed the offices of 'The Independent' and detained chief editor Musa Saidykhan and general manager Madi Ceesay. Mr Saidykhan and Mr Ceesay were kept in NIA custody for three weeks before being released without charge on 20 April.
Mr Fatty was transferred over the weekend from an NIA cell to what the agency called "light detention," meaning that he can move around within the building and is free to receive visitors, local journalists told CPJ. Mr Ceesay and 'Independent' editor Saidykhan were able to speak with Mr Fatty yesterday.
On Monday, Gambian police officers retuned the keys of the newspaper's offices, which had been confiscated for almost one month, preventing 'The Independent' from reaching the streets. Manager Ceesay was told by NIA agents that he would be allowed to reopen the newspaper and restart publishing.
Trying to do that yesterday, 'Independent' staff were however again harassed by security officers without any explanation. Police vans arrived at the offices in the capital Banjul after receptionist Juldeh Sowe came to open up. Police detained him and told him to report to a police station tomorrow. When other 'Independent' employees arrived later, two plainclothes officers prevented them from entering.
The continued arrest of Mr Fatty and the prevention of the reopening of 'The Independent' has caused widespread protest. "This is only the latest in a series of repressive measures aimed at silencing 'The Independent', one of the few publications in The Gambia that openly criticises the government," said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. Also the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) yesterday demanded Mr Fatty's "immediate and unconditional release and invites the government of President [Yaya] Jammeh to demonstrate respect for rule of law and media freedom in the Gambia."
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