In July 2001 the government warned journalists and diplomats not to do anything to "undermine peace and stability" in the country in the run-up to the October presidential elections. "This does not mean that we want to gag the press; we simply want it to be responsible", added the foreign affairs minister.
According to most observers in The Gambia, opposition candidates had better access to state-owned media before and during the elections than during the previous election period. For the first time, all the candidates were able to use their time on the air on state media to present their programme and criticise the government.
Yet the Gambian press is still not free from political pressure. On 18 June about a dozen journalists from the privately-owned The Daily Observer resigned in protest against "obvious interference in the editorial line" by Bubacar Baldeh, the managing director. Mr. Baldeh, also in charge of propaganda for the ruling APRC party (the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction), allegedly prohibited the publication of articles on the activities of the opposition. This he denied, saying that he had only asked the editorial staff to publish "balanced and verified news".
One journalist jailed
Alhagie Mbye, journalist with The Independent and correspondent for the London-based magazine West Africa, was arrested on 21 November 2001 and taken to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). We was accused of publishing an article in West Africa on massive fraud during the 18 October presidential elections. According to the journalist, thousands of foreigners from Casamance in Senegal, living in The Gambia, were registered to vote. Alhagie Mbye was released on 29 November. The Gambian journalists’ union announced its intention to lodge a complaint against the NIA for "illegal confinement and aggravated assault". On 7 December Alagi Yoro Jallow, managing editor of The Independent, was questioned by NIA agents. He had published an editorial on 3 December in which he denounced the bad treatment Alhagie Mbye had suffered during his detention. In the article he compared the Gambian intelligence services to the Gestapo.
Two journalists arrested
George Christensen, owner of Radio One, was arrested on 23 October 2001 and taken to the NIA. He was released a few hours later after being questioned on his radio station’s financial situation.
Citizen FM interrupted its programmes on the morning of 29 October to announce the arrest of the station’s owner, Babucar Gaye, by men claiming to be from the state president’s office. Babucar Gaye was taken to the NIA and ordered to pay overdue taxes of 93,000 dalasis (about 6,230 euros). He was forced to pay at least half of the amount before his radio station could start broadcasting again. This arrest occurred shortly after the radio station had announced the results of the 18 October presidential election piecemeal, as each constituency’s counts were made known. According to Babucar Gaye, the law does not prohibit the media from disclosing results provided by the independent electoral commission. He was released a few hours later but Citizen FM was not allowed to resume its broadcasts. In December Babucar Gaye affirmed that he had already paid 50,000 dalasis to the state, that is, over half of the taxes due. He asked for authorisation to reopen his radio station but the authorities ignored his request.
Two journalists attacked
Three police officers in uniform assaulted Alieu Badara Mansaray, reporter for The Daily Observer, on 27 June 2001. They took him to the Bundung police station where they hit him and broke his portable phone. The journalist had reportedly witnesses corruption.
While he was on his way to the Yundum barracks on 12 July to cover the trial of a former army commander, a journalist with The Independent, Omar Bah, was assaulted by soldiers. The journalist had been authorised by a senior officer of the barracks to attend the trial.
One journalist threatened
In late May 2001 Seedi Ceesay, reporter with Radio One, received a death threat in the post. The letter contained a drawing of a big hand holding a head, with the message: "Seedi, leave this work now. You’ll soon be in this state". The journalist is the host of a weekly press review on which many critical articles about the state president are discussed on the air. A copy of the same letter was also sent to the journalist’s mother. A few days later NIA agents searched Seedi Ceesay’s home for three hours. They failed to find the "illegal documents" they were looking for and left empty-handed.
Pressure and obstruction
Peter Gomez, editor-in-chief of the public-sector Radio Gambia, was dismissed in early January 2001. Although no reason was officially given for this dismissal, it seems to be related to Peter Gomez’s refusal to broadcast a correction by Fatou Jahumap-Cessay, director of the press and of public relations in the presidency. She had accused the journalist of "reporting the president’s words out of context" in a report claiming that the head of state wanted to introduce sharia law in The Gambia.
On 15 June Modou Thomas of Radio One, Namory Trawally of The Independent, and Bakary Manneh with Brikama Community Radio were held by NIA agents during a youth festival in the eastern town of Basse. According to the Radio One journalist, the policemen asked them not to report problems related to accommodation and food, mentioned during the event.