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Gambia20 October 2003

Arsonists set fire to bi-weekly Independent

Reporters Without Borders today condemned an arson attack on the headquarters of The Independent newspaper in Banjul on the night of 17 October and the failure the police to go there although alerted. The fire was put out by firemen and did not cause major damage.

"I am amazed the police did not even bother to go to the scene to establish the facts, although they were informed about the fire," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said, calling for a investigation to find out who was behind the attack and bring them to justice.

Acting editor in chief Sidi Bojang said at press conference yesterday three unidentified individuals went to the newspaper on the evening of 17 October, sprayed pepper gas on the caretaker and beat him with an iron bar. After he was taken to hospital, four men climbed over the perimeter wall and set fire to the inside of the building through the windows. They fled on the arrival of staff from the security company used by the newspaper.

The Independent, which comes out twice a week, is known for its criticism of the government, although it had been less virulent since the release of managing editor Abdoulie Sey from detention on 23 September.

Sey was detained on 19 September by members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who questioned him about articles considered very critical of the president. He fell ill a few hours after his release as a result of the poor conditions of detention at the NIA’s premises, colleagues said. Sey has still not returned to work.

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