On the second anniversary of a police raid on the privately-owned weekly The Independent, Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to lift the illegal and unofficial ban that has prevented the newspaper from publishing for the past two years.
“By suppressing a newspaper that was often very critical, the government broke the laws that it requires Gambians to respect under pain of severe penalties,” the press freedom organisation said. “President Yahya Jammeh renders accounts to no one, in violation of the rules of democracy. He makes no secret of his contempt for media independence and his impunity is assured by the level of fear that his crackdowns impose.”
The raid on The Independent was carried out on the morning of 28 March 2006 by members of the Criminal Investigation Department and the elite Police Intervention Unit, who arrested all of the staff present. They were all released later the same day, except the new managing editor, Madi Ceesay, head of the Gambia Press Union, the country’s main journalists’ union.
The previous night, at around midnight, police had arrested the editor, Musa Saidykhan, at his home. Ceesay and Saidykhan were finally released on bail three weeks later, on 20 April 2006. One of the newspaper’s reporters, Lamin Fatty, was arrested on 12 April 2006 and was released on bail two months later.
The authorities never gave any reason for the raid or explained on what legal grounds it was carried out. But it came just one day after the newspaper published a story quoting opposition National Alliance for Democracy and Development leader Halifa Sallah as asking if President Jammeh was “richer than The Gambia.” Ceesay wrote an editorial for the same issue criticising all coups, both the abortive one that had reportedly taken place six days earlier and the one that brought Jammeh to power in 1994.
The Independent’s disappearance means that The Point - whose joint editor, Deyda Hydara, was murdered on 16 December 2004 - is the only independent newspaper still being published in Gambia. The privately-owned Daily Observer chose several years ago to position itself as a close ally of the government.