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Gambia September 1, 2006
H.E. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh
Republic of Gambia
Fax: (011.220) 22-70-34
The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), a New York-based association of international journalists founded in 1939, writes to express its concern over your government’s repeated attacks on press freedom in Gambia .
The OPC joins an international chorus, including most recently The Carter Center and The Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, calling on Gambian leaders to support freedom of expression and respect for human rights. The climate of fear and intimidation has led to the closure of The Independent newspaper and a constant wave of arrests and detention of other Gambian journalists without due process.
For example, we await the August 31 resumption of Independent reporter Lamin Fatty’s trial on charges that he published “false information” about Samba Bah, the former interior minister and head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Mr. Fatty reported that Bah was arrested in connection with an unsuccessful March 21 coup. In truth, it was a namesake of Mr. Bah who was arrested, and Mr. Fatty mistakenly took him to be the NIA head. When Mr. Bah pointed out the error, The Independent immediately ran both a correction and an apology. Mr. Bah declined to take the matter to court on his own.
The State, however, used this incident as part of its campaign to intimidate and censor the Gambian media. Mr. Fatty is the first reporter to be prosecuted under Gambia ‘s latest anti-press laws, which were established in 2004. The publication of “false information” is a crime under section 181 of the Criminal Code. The Independent was closed by the state police on March 28 and several reporters were arrested and detained for several weeks without charges. There were some reports of torture, as well.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests of Daily Express journalists, Sam Obi and Abdul Gafari, who were held without charges for four days at NIA headquarters. Two more journalists are believed to be in hiding. They are Ebrima Maneeh of the Daily Observer and Sulaymane Makato of The Independent.
In addition to the repressive laws and threats, the murder of Deyda Hydara, editor of the tabloid, The Point, and a correspondent of RSF, remains unsolved. He was killed in December 2004, allegedly by officers from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), while riding home in his car. Hydara was the first RSF correspondent killed since the group’s founding in 1985. RSF’s report concluded that “the journalist was murdered by well-organized professionals in a pre-meditated operation, which could well have been aimed at the entire management of The Point.”
While the Gambian press is being intimidated, the news is manipulated. On August 24, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued a release stating his regrets over the selective citation of his comments in a private letter to you. The quotations gave readers of the government-supported Daily Observer the false impression that President Carter actually supported your draconian policies. In fact, President Carter criticized the deteriorating state of human rights in your country. Among the issues he lists are the crack-downs against Gambian media, including newspaper shut-downs and reporter arrests, in addition to unsolved arson attacks and murders of journalists.
The IBA’s Human Rights Institute released an August 21 report saying that “threats to the independence of the judiciary…highlight the recent deterioration for respect of the rule of law, freedom of expression and the protection of human rights in Gambia .”
In a September, 2005 address to the United Nations, you referred to the vital importance of information, communication and technology as “a source of power in today’s globalized world.” We hope you will agree that information and communication can thrive only in a free society. We all need to be aware that censorship can create a poverty of the mind and spirit as well.
We urge you to set your country on a new course with the following actions:
* Create an atmosphere of trust in Gambia through the affirmation and support of press freedom. This includes allowing journalists to practice their trade without fear of retribution from the state.
* Publicly condemn the attacks on freedom of the press so Gambian citizens will feel your commitment to an open society.
* Repeal the oppressive laws against the Gambian media, most notably Section 181 of the Criminal Code and the Newspaper Act, which would give more legal support to reporters and editors.
* Re-start the investigations into the Hydara murder and arson attacks against newspaper offices and radio stations over the last five years. Some renewed investigative vigor would signal to all that attacks against the media will not be tolerated on your watch.
We look forward to your response and thank you for your consideration.
Freedom of the Press Committee
Dodou Bammy Jagne Hon. John O. Kakonge
Ambassador of Gambia to the U.S.A. United Nations House
Embassy of the Republic of Gambia P.O. Box 553
1155 Fifteenth Street, NW ( Suite 1000 ) Banjul
Washington , DC 20005 Gambia
Fax: (202) 785-1430 Fax: (011.220) 49-47-58
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Gambia Ms. Lawanda Kamara
to the United Nations Celebrate Africa Foundation
800 Second Avenue , Suite 400-F 44 East 32 nd Street
New York , NY 10017 New York , NY 10016
Fax: (212) 856-9820 Fax: (973) 675-5704
Joseph D. Stafford III
U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia
Embassy of the United States of America
Kairaba Avenue , Fajara
Fax: (011.220) 39-24-75