137 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 11,300 sq. km.
Head of state: Yahya Jammeh, since 1994
Press freedom is stifled year after year by an intolerant and unpredictable government. The work of the privately owned media is hobbled by an extremely threatening climate, bolstered by laws of defamation and against “publishing false news” that are among the most draconian in West Africa.
Despite the existence of a civilian government, headed by young president, Yahya Jammeh, the country is the reserve of a small clique of frequently irrational soldiers, who imprison, torture and terrorise often randomly, those who dare to clash with the head of state or his friends.
The murder of the country’s most prominent journalist, editor of the weekly The Point, Deyda Hydara, on 16 December 2004, marked the end of a period when a well organised and rigorous private press could still stand firm against a government which did not hide its hostility towards it. Hydara was formerly president of the journalists’ union, correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and AFP, the doyen of the country’s journalists and a perceptive editorialist, pointing out the erring ways of the inexperienced and mystic young president. At the time he was killed, within a stone’s throw of a police barracks, Hydara was being permanently watched by the dreaded National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the head of state’s all-powerful intelligence service. Since his death, almost all those who were a thorn in the president’s side have fallen into step or have left the country. Apart from The Point, which is more or less protected by the aura of its deceased editor, most newspapers that tried to get a different voice heard from that of the pro-government Daily Observer have been illegally closed.
One imprisoned journalist, “Chief” Ebrima Manneh, disappeared without trace into the sinister Mile Two prison on the Banjul sea front. And the authorities have always denied holding him, despite numerous reports from prisoners and eye witnesses to the contrary.