The Independent’s general manager, Madi Ceesay, and its editor, Musa Saidykhan, were released this afternoon on bail after being illegally detained for more than three weeks. They will have to report to the police every day. Meanwhile, Lamin M. Fatty, a reporter for the privately-owned biweekly who was arrested on 12 April, is still being held.
Reporters Without Borders reiterated its call for the immediate release of Fatty, who is being held without charge and without access to a lawyer or to his family well beyond the maximum period of 72 hours permitted by Gambian law.
04.04.2006 - Two journalists held illegally for the past week
Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today at the impunity with which the Gambian government has been able to illegally detain Madi Ceesay, the managing director of the biweekly newspaper The Independent, and Musa Saydikhan, its editor, for the past week.
The press freedom organisation wrote today to the British, French and US ambassadors in Banjul calling on them to “urgently intercede with authorities to obtain the release of these two journalists,” adding that their detention was illegal under Gambian law as charges must be brought against a detainee within 72 hours.
They were arrested at the same time as many other members of the newspaper’s staff in an operation carried out on 28 March by the Criminal Investigation Department, with the support of the elite Police Intervention Unit. The other staff members were released the same day, but The Independent’s offices have remained closed ever since and the newspaper has not reappeared.
Ceesay and Saidykhan were initially held at the Banjul police station but were transferred on 31 March to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). They have not been allowed to see their lawyer or their families. The Gambia Press Union (GPU), the country’s main journalists’ union, has not been able to find out the reasons for their detention, despite asking the NIA’s deputy director general and secretary of state for information Neneh Macdouall Gaye. Ceesay’s is the GPU’s president.
According to a Gambian source who asked not to be identified, Ceesay and Saidykhan were arrested because The Independent’s 24 March issue named 23 people who had supposedly been arrested for their alleged participation in an abortive coup on 21 March. Those named included Samba Bah, a former interior minister and former head of the NIA, whose angry denial of the report’s accuracy was published in the 27 March issue under the headline, “I am not arrested,” together with the newspaper’s apology. The NIA is thought to have been trying to get Ceesay and Saidykhan to reveal who told them Bah was arrested as a member of the 21 March conspiracy.
In its letters to the ambassadors, Reporters Without Borders also voiced its concern about the “climate of fear which the Gambian authorities have imposed on the privately-owned press” for the past few years.