- For one year now, Gambians have been denied the right to read and hear alternative views in their national media. On 28 March last year, the country's leading independent voice, 'The Independent', was closed down by security forces and its editors were arrested and tortured. Since then, all news are censored in The Gambia.
Exactly one year ago, the offices of 'The Independent' were raided by Gambian security forces. The newspaper's equipment and archives were confiscated and the building sealed off. Senior staff, including editor Musa Saidykhan and general manager Madi Ceesay, were arrested without charges.
Weeks went by and the hope of seeing the outspoken newspaper reopened dwindled. Even worse, nothing was heard about the 'Independent' staff and their whereabouts were unknown. Colleagues in The Gambia and around the world feared the worst. Only in December 2004, Gambian security agents were accused of assassinating the country's then most outspoken and leading newspaper editor, Deyda Hydara, of 'The Point'.
'The Independent' remains closed. Also the country's only remaining independent newspaper, 'The Point' led by Mr Hydara's successor Pap Saine, had to resort to self-censorship. The formerly proud 'Daily Observer' had already been infiltrated by President Yahya Jammeh's agents and turned into a shameless government mouthpiece. The outspoken private radio 'Citizen FM' had already lost its licence. Gambia by mid-2006 was silenced, and it remains so.
Only later, it was known that editor Saidykhan and manager Ceesay were cruelly tortured for months by agents of the feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA). In June, afrol News received photo documentation of Gambian journalists showing bruises, scars and open wounds all over their body.
Mr Saidykhan and his colleagues were let out on bail, without any charges ever pressed against them. As soon as they left NIA detention centres, however, new NIA agents started following them in cars without licence plates, issuing death threats to them and their families. They were left with no other choice than fleeing their country.
Mr Saidykhan now works as an editor at afrol News. With the assistance of several media freedom organisations, he is currently preparing to file a suit against the Gambian government at the ECOWAS court in Abuja, Nigeria. He alleges torture by state agents while being illegally detained - both serious violations of the human rights conventions Gambian authorities have signed up to.
Meanwhile, attacks against the press in The Gambia have not stopped after these incidents, despite the silencing of all independent channels. Authorities have since gone after journalists in public and pro-government media for not writing sufficiently positive about President Jammeh, and they have even attacked Gambian online media based abroad.
Omar Bah and Sulayman Makalo, editors of 'Daily Observer' and 'Daily Express' also went into hiding last year for fear of being persecuted.
At the time of writing, the whereabouts of a pro-government 'Daily Observer' crime reporter, Chief Ebrima Manneh, who has been held detained by NIA officers since 7 July 2006, remains unknown. Both the police and NIA deny holding him, although a recent local newspaper report said he was traced in the cells of a regional police station in the country.
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