Voicing outrage at the closure of a branch of the Senegalese radio station Sud FM in the Gambian capital of Banjul by police on 22 October, Reporters Without Borders today called on the Gambian authorities to let it resume broadcasting immediately.
“A dispute between the government and a privately-owned radio station in no way justifies such an arbitrary measure, which is unworthy of a regime that claims to be democratic,” the press freedom organisation said.
“President Yayah Jammeh’s attitude toward independent news media continues to be a source of great concern to us, and we point out the December 2004 murder of Deyda Hydara, the editor of the independent newspaper The Point, is still unpunished,” Reporters Without Borders added.
Five Gambian police officers raided Sud FM’s Banjul branch at 3 p.m. on 22 October and told staff to stop broadcasting. The police said they were acting on “instructions from above” and refused give any further reason for the closure. Station manager Pape Diomawe Thiare complied after telling listeners that the authorities had come to the studios and were forcing him to shut down.
Information, communication and new technologies minister Nemeh Macdouall Gaye refused to say anything when contacted by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) but she told the BBC that “Sud FM Banjul bombarded listeners with comments likely to stir up trouble” after President Jammeh’s visit to Senegal the previous day. She did not however specify what comments she was referring to.
The day before the station’s closure, Jammeh and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade reached agreement on a squabble that had been poisoning relations between the two countries since 15 August, when Banjul raised fares for the River Gambia ferry crossing, prompting Senegalese truck drivers to block the border in protest. This had a disastrous economic impact on Gambia, a small enclave in the middle of Senegal, driving up prices and causing shortages.
A Gambian journalist attributed Sud FM Banjul’s closure to the fact that earlier on 22 October it had carried a press review prepared by its Dakar headquarters referring to the new accord and mentioning that certain commentators had described President Jammeh’s stance as “versatile.” This press review has a reputation for free-wheeling criticism and has often been criticised by both Gambian and Senegalese officials in the past.
Babacar Touré, the head of the Sud Communication group which owns Sud FM, said his group was considering pulling out of Gambia “if it is confirmed that they [the Gambian authorities] do not want us any more, if there is hostility towards the men and women who work for us in Gambia, and if the Gambian authorities want to blame us for the tension between Gambia and Senegal.” Touré was due to travel to Banjul today.
Sud FM was previously censored when the Senegalese authorities banned it from broadcasting throughout Senegal on 17 October after it carried an interview with the one of the leaders of a rebel movement in the southern Casamance region. The ban was lifted later the same day, but while it lasted, Sud FM Banjul was the only branch to continue broadcasting.
Sud-FM is a privately-owned Senegalese radio network that broadcasts in French, English and Wolof.