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Gambia16 August 2004

Bid to set fire to BBC stringer’s house threatens all independent media

Reporters Without Borders today deplored an attempt to burn down the house of the stringer for the British BBC Radio in the Gambian capital, Banjul, and said it seemed to be a warning to the independent media, since the government had not tried to find those responsible for other such incidents in recent months.

The latest attack came in the early hours of 15 August when intruders smashed windows at the home of the stringer, Ebrahima Sillah, pouring petrol inside and setting fire to it, causing extensive damage.

"This is how the enemies of press freedom operate in Gambia," it said, noting two arson attacks in recent months on the privately-owned twice-weekly paper The Independent which the authorities have not investigated in any way. "If this kind of impunity continues, the consequences are likely to be much worse," the worldwide press freedom organisation said, adding that it feared many more such attacks.

It said the independent journalists’ association, the Gambia Press Union (GPU), had received an anonymous letter on 13 August accusing the media of criticising Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and "Gambia generally" and of being "agents of the West." The authors said they planned "very soon" to teach a GPU journalist "a very good lesson," adding that they were "sure you don’t want your bones and flesh to be thrown to dogs and vultures."

Many people speculated that the letter was from the "Green Boys," apparently government supporters calling themselves after the colour of the flag of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).

The group had threatened in a 13 January letter to kill the The Independent’s managing editor, Alagi Yorro Jallow, and destroy the paper. Three months later to the day, the paper’s printing press was set fire to and completely destroyed. The group criticised the paper’s coverage of the tax evasion trial of APRC parliamentary spokesman Baba Jobe.

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