GPU Reacts to Attacks, Arrest on Journalists and Closure of Two Radio Stations
Saikou Jammeh, The Gambia Press Union’s Secretary General said the Union condemns the arrest of four Journalists and the shutdown of two Radio Stations by the Gambia security forces.
Saikou called on the government to immediately release the journalists and lift the ban on the two radio stations. He said these during a press conference held at the Gambia Press Union (GPU) secretariat in Fajara.
Jammeh said “between 12 noon and 2pm yesterday, two radio stations have been forced to cease operations and four Journalists arrested within the same period or thereabout by the security forces”. These incidents he said came in the wake of the Anti-government protest called ‘3 years Jotna’ which turned violent even before it started.
“The past 24 hours witnessed the most aggressive attack on the press freedom since the new government assumed office in 2017”. Jammeh explained.
He revealed that while covering the disturbances earlier in the day, one of the journalists Sankulleh Janko, a reporter for Dakar-based West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) was attacked and physically assaulted by a group of protesters who were visibly angry and violent and were armed with sticks; was manhandled and forcefully took away his equipment, including his mobile phone.
“If not for the intervention of one of the protesters, the reporter who’s one of the country’s promising young Journalists, would have been seriously harmed, perhaps killed”, Saikou said. “Violence against journalists came from both sides”.
Jammeh went on to state that, about dozens armed personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) of The Gambia Police Force (GFP) stormed the offices of Home Digital FM in Brikama and ordered the staff to cease operations with immediate effect. The manager Pa Modou Bojang was taken away from his studio by the police.
“Although the authorities have refused to confirm his whereabouts, we have learnt through reliable sources that he was detained at the PIU headquarters in Kanifing before he was taken to the Anti- Crime Unit in Bijilo”.
He explained that a similar fate happened to King FM Radio as dozens armed PIU personnel stormed the offices in Talinding, ordered the staff out of the premises, shut down the radio, and whisked away three people, including the manager Gibril Jallow.
The other two are called Ebrima Jallow and Madiou Jallow. He rebuked the statement that the government made in a release claiming that the radio stations were shut down due to ‘broadcasting incendiary’ messages.
“This is unfounded and disappointing; we have confirmed from multiple sources, including from the manager, that King FM did not broadcast any information about the protest”, Jammeh said.
“The station had throughout the day, until the time it was closed; been playing music that has no bearing on the disturbances”.
The Secretary General however, said that Home Digital FM was indeed broadcasting messages about the protest and after confirming from multiple sources, including the staff and listeners that there was nothing incendiary about the broadcasts of the events; “We‘re of the considered view that the closure of the radio stations was arbitrary and unlawful”. He stated.
Equally, the proclamation contained in yesterday’s press release which appears to warn journalists against presenting divergent views he said, is equally as dangerous as it is unlawful; stating that it has no legitimate basis and therefore, call on the media to disregard it and present as diverse opinions as possible on any issue of legitimate public interest and the issue of the tenure of the president is one of such.
“We will challenge any attempt by the government to pursue further with the implementation of this proclamation”. Saikou said.
Quoting from the Information and Communication Act (S36) of the 1997 Constitution, gives power only the Minister of information to suspend or revoke broadcasting License therefore; the security has no powers to shut down a radio station.
Jammeh said through consultations they had with the minister, they have confirmed that no such order came from his office and moreover; the laid-down conditions for doing so have not been met.
“We know why the radio stations were shut down, we know why journalists were arrested and detained; Jammeh stressed, “It is the same reason Deyda Hydara was murdered under Jammeh; it is the same reason why Chief Manneh was killed under Jammeh; it is the same reason media houses were shut down fifteen times between 1994 and 2016 under Jammeh; it is the same reason dozens of journalists were tortured under; it is the same reason more than 20 per cent of Gambian Journalists were forced into exile under Jammeh and it is the same reason more than two dozens of Journalists were assaulted under Barrow and nothing is done about”. Saikou stressed.
Jammeh argued that yesterday’s attacks brought back the memories of the 22 yrs of the brutal repression of the media. The modus operandi of this government he said bears the hallmark of the tactics used by the former regime in its disregard for press freedom and the rule of law.
The union has engaged the service of a lawyer to secure the release of the journalists under custody and launch civil action against the state on matters connected with this arrest and detention before any court of law that has the competence to preside over such.
While it refrained itself to comment on the substance of the debate on the tenure of the president and the dispute arising from it, the GPU call on the government to launch and independent inquiry into the disturbance and act in a manner that is just.
“there is no doubt that the way this whole issue of3 years Jotna was handled, and the heavy-handedness of the security, makes mockery of the transitional justice process and our ongoing democratic reforms; In conclusion, we call on the government to immediately release the journalists and lift the ban on the two radio stations”. Saikou Jammeh Stated.
By Adam Drammeh.