The Independent forced to stop publishing

New York, May 16, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned that the biweekly newspaper The Independent, which lost its printing press in an unsolved arson in April 2004, has been forced to stopped publishing entirely after its printing arrangement with the private Daily Observer was abruptly terminated.

The Independent has not published since May 6 and is still looking for an alternative way to print, according to Editor Musa Saidykhan. Other Gambian printing and publishing outlets have refused the paper’s requests for a contract. Saidykhan said he believes they have been threatened not to print The Independent, or they fear their own presses could be attacked.

“Those who use threats and violence to silence the Gambia’s independent media have achieved their objective for the moment,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “If this important newspaper disappears, it will be a serious blow to press freedom in the Gambia.”

The government has failed to solve a series of arsons against news outlets, including a 2000 attack on private broadcaster Radio 1 FM; an August 2004 attack on the home of BBC correspondent Ebrima Sillah; and an October 2003 attack on the offices of The Independent. A second attack on The Independent in April 2004 destroyed the newspaper’s new printing press, and several employees barely escaped. The most shocking attack, though, was the December 2004 murder of veteran journalist Deyda Hydara, co-editor and founder of the independent newspaper The Point. Investigations into these attacks have produced little or no results.

After The Independent‘s printing press was burned, it reached an informal arrangement with the Daily Observer to have the paper printed there. Saidykhan said he was notified by phone on May 4 that the arrangement had been terminated.

Independent journalists suspect the pro-government Daily Observer had political motives for terminating the agreement. Daily Observer Managing Editor Momodou Sanyang told CPJ that he made the decision after learning of problems with his paper’s printing facilities, including the need for spare parts and extra capacity.