CPJ seeks investigations into unsolved arson attacks

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about an August 15 arson attack on the home of Gambian journalist and BBC correspondent Ebrima Sillah, and recent threats against local independent journalists. About 3 a.m., attackers broke through the windows of Sillah’s house, poured gasoline, and set fire to the building, causing extensive damage. The house is located outside the capital, Banjul.

Sillah was inside sleeping when the attack took place, but he was able to escape without injury. No one else was inside the house at the time. Sillah told CPJ that neighbors helped extinguish the blaze, which burned for more than two hours.

Several days before the attack, Demba Jawo, president of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), received an anonymous threatening letter at his home. The letter criticized Jawo and the independent press in Gambia for their coverage of Your Excellency and your ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party, saying that the journalists’ coverage was biased against you. “Very soon we will teach one of your journalists a very good lesson,” the letter threatened.

In July, the BBC in London received a letter signed “The Green Boys,” which criticized Sillah’s coverage for the BBC of the 10-year anniversary of the July 22 coup that brought Your Excellency to power in 1994. The letter accused Sillah’s reporting of being biased against Your Excellency, and threatened to attack the journalist.

Sillah told CPJ that he gave a copy of the letter to the local police, who promised to investigate its source. However, the police have announced no information from that investigation, and have not announced a new investigation into the arson attack, Sillah said.

This attack is the latest in a series of arson assaults on independent media in the Gambia. On April 13, armed men stormed a building in suburban Kanifing that housed the printing press of the private biweekly newspaper, The Independent. The men fired shots inside the building before dousing equipment with gasoline and setting it ablaze. Three employees were injured in the fire. The Independent was also attacked in October 2003, when three unidentified men set fire to the newspaper’s main offices in Banjul, forcing staff to relocate temporarily.

The attacks on Sillah’s home and on The Independent closely resemble an August 2000 arson attack on the offices of the independent Banjul-based Radio 1 FM, which injured several journalists and forced the station off the air for two days.

According to local journalists, no one has been prosecuted in connection with any of these attacks.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns the attacks on Ebrima Sillah and independent media outlets in the Gambia. We respectfully urge Your Excellency to ensure a thorough, independent investigation into these attacks, and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. The lack of prosecution in these cases is shocking and sends a dangerous message that those who attack journalists in the Gambia can do so with impunity.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director