CPJ condemns arson attack on newspaper

New York, April 13, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns today’s early-morning arson attack on the printing press of the private, Banjul-based biweekly The Independent.

According to local sources, at around 3 a.m. this morning, six armed men stormed the building housing The Independent‘s printing press in Kanifing, a suburb of the capital, Banjul. The men fired shots inside the building before dousing equipment with gasoline and setting it ablaze.

Journalists who arrived on the scene shortly after the incident said the assailants had attempted to lock employees inside the burning building, but that all staff members escaped. Three were injured when they struggled to free themselves.

The Independent‘s printing press had only been operating for three months. All of the newspaper’s printing equipment, and all copies of today’s edition, were destroyed in the attack.

This is not the first time The Independent, known for its feisty criticism of the government, has come under attack. In October 2003, three unidentified men set fire to the newspaper’s main offices, forcing staff to relocate temporarily. The Independent Editor-in-Chief Abdoulie Sey said that the newspaper’s management decided to separate their printing press from their main office after the October attack.

Despite promises of a police investigation into the October fire, The Independent has received no word from authorities about progress in the case.

Sey told CPJ that the latest attack would not keep the newspaper from publishing or affect its editorial stance. Journalists at the paper are currently working on Friday’s edition, which they hope to publish with the help of other media houses.

Sey also said that Gambian Interior Minister Sulayman Masanneh Ceesay visited the newspaper’s office today to assure employees that a thorough investigation will be conducted. The editor also told CPJ that the inspector general of police had contacted The Independent by phone to reiterate this assurance.

Both attacks on The Independent closely resemble an August 2000 arson attack on the offices of the independent station Radio 1 FM that injured several journalists and forced the station off the air for two days. Sources at Radio 1 told CPJ that, almost four years later, there has been no movement on the investigation into the incident.

“These brutal attacks on Gambian media outlets, which appear to be in reprisal for critical journalism, are totally unacceptable,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Gambian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, thereby sending a message that such attacks will not be tolerated.”