- Another Gambian journalist, working for the public broadcaster, has been abducted by the feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA), following the forced closure of three independent newspapers earlier this year. Observers view this systematic crackdown on the press by President Yahya Jammeh's government as preparations for Gambia's elections in two weeks.
Gambian public television reporter Dodou Sanneh has been held detained in an undisclosed location since 7 September, according to reports from the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). It is widely assumed that Mr Sanneh has been picked up by the NIA, which has been active in President Jammeh's crackdown of the press. The NIA systematically uses heavy torture against its detainees.
RSF had learned from several local sources that did not want to be identified that Mr Sanneh, who works for the state-owned 'Gambian Radio and Television Services' (GRTS), has been held since 7 September. He had been given the job of covering the election campaign of the opposition UDP-NRP-GPDP alliance, which is backing lawyer Ousainou Darboe as presidential candidate.
He was reportedly arrested because his coverage of its meetings was considered "not objective." The sources do not know where Mr Sanneh is being held or what charges might have been brought against him. Usually in such cases, however, the NIA is in control.
Mr Sanneh is the 10th journalist to be arrested in Gambia since the start of the year. None of these arrests has complied with the legal requirement that detainees be charged within 72 hours and be allowed access to a lawyer.
The increasingly isolated and paranoid regime of President Jammeh has sought to gain full control of the media and the opposition during the last few years. This campaign has speeded up this year, as the President seeks his re-election in two weeks. Virtually the entire critical press has been wiped out in The Gambia.
The gagging of the Gambian press turned extra violent in December 2004, when 'The Point' editor Deyda Hydara was gunned down by "unknown" assailants. It is widely accepted that the NIA - which had him under constant surveillance - or the radical youth organisation of President Jammeh's ruling party stood behind the assassination. 'The Point' still is published as an independent newspaper, but has changed Mr Hydara's outspoken profile with much softer phrasing.
The country's most outspoken newspaper, 'The Independent' had been targeted several times since 2004, but the government's final attack came on 28 March this year, when it was prevented from publishing and its senior staff was illegally detained by the NIA for several weeks. The newspaper's journalists Lamin Fatty is currently being tried in The Gambia, while chief editor Musa Saidykhan had to flee the country. 'The Independent' remains gagged.
In May this year, police summoned contributors and sources for the US-based Web site 'Freedom Newspaper'. Several contributors were handed over to the NIA, where some faced torture. Others had to flee the country.
The editor of the new but short-lived privately-owned 'Daily Express' newspaper, Sulaymane Makato, has been on the run since 14 July after getting two anonymous SMS text messages, saying the NIA was after him and his staff. Just two weeks after the new newspaper's launch, its managing editor, Sam Obi, and one of its journalists, Adbul Gafari, were arrested and taken to NIA headquarters. The 'Daily Express' also had to give up.
The remaining privately-owned press and state-owned media are under complete control of the government. The 'Daily Observer' is owned by one of the President's supporters, businessman Amadou Samba, and its staff uses every opportunity to run pro-Jammeh campaigns and libelling other media or the opposition. The government further determines the content of the news broadcast by state-owned radio, TV and print media.
Observers therefore hold that the upcoming presidential elections will have no chance of becoming neither free nor fair. The detention of GRTS's journalist Sanneh is seen as the last adjustment of the government's full control of the media, to assure total support of the Jammeh campaign.
The detention of Mr Sanneh today was "forcefully condemned" by RSF. "This latest arrest just two weeks before presidential elections highlights the despotic character of the incumbent's government," RSF said in a statement. "Sanneh seems to have been arrested for not being sufficiently servile towards the country's current rulers. If the African Union does not at the very least ask Jammeh to respect all the treaties and charters he has signed, it will never again be able speak out about rigged elections anywhere in the continent," the group added.
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