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Gambia bans only independent radio station airing news

New York, January 14, 2011--Gambian authorities on Thursday shut the only independent radio station in the nation that has continued to broadcast news, according to local journalists.

Taranga FM was one of the last independent voices in the Gambia (Taranga FM)

National Intelligence Agency officials summoned Ismaila Ceesay, managing director of Taranga FM, a community radio station based in Sinchu Alhagie village, southwest of Banjul, for interrogation and ordered the station off the air until further notice, local journalists said.

Journalists told CPJ the ban was in reprisal for the station's "news review" program in which local newspaper stories were read on the air in English and local languages. It was unclear what story or stories prompted the ban.

With a small independent press corps weakened by years of government intimidation and repression, the Gambia counts only a handful of private radio stations, which mostly cover sports and entertainment, and a few independent newspapers operating under intense self-censorship. The government operates a television and radio network known as GRTS, which broadcasts only officially approved news. Arrests, torture, physical and verbal intimidation, arbitrary closures of news outlets, repressive legislation, and unsolved murder and disappearance of journalists have forced dozens of independent journalists to flee into exile.

"With the closure of Taranga FM, the Gambia confirms its status as one of Africa's most censored countries," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "Radio is a vital source of news in Africa, but listeners in the Gambia can now hear only a government mouthpiece. The authorities should restore Taranga FM and all independent broadcasts to return to air."

Several independent news outlets have been shuttered by the government in recent years, including Citizen FM, Radio 1 FM, a local bureau of Senegalese station Sud FM, and The Independent newspaper, according to CPJ research.

The ban on Taranga FM came a week after Gambian Justice Minister Edward Gomez dismissed suggestions of human rights abuses in the country as "mere speculation," according to an interview published in the private Daily News. In the same interview, Gomez threatened to prosecute any exiled Gambian who dared criticize the government's actions.

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