Government shutters Senegalese-owned radio station

New York, October 24, 2005—Police shut down the Gambian branch of Senegalese private radio station Sud FM on Saturday, according to international news reports and local sources. In an interview on Sunday with the BBC, acting Gambian Information Minister Neneh Mcdoll-Gaye accused Sud FM of “inciting trouble” between Gambia and Senegal, but gave no further details.

Pape Djomaye Thiare, Sud FM’s Banjul director, said the station had not been told the reason for the government’s action. The closure followed a closed-door summit on Friday between President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia to resolve tension that has simmered since Gambia hiked prices for ferries across the Gambia River, which forms the border between the two countries. Tension apparently eased when the Gambia agreed to suspend higher crossing fares on the Gambia River and Senegal said it would ask its transport unions to end a border blockade.

Sud FM director Oumar Diouf Fall told CPJ that the Gambian authorities may have been angered by the station’s review of Senegalese press coverage following the summit. CPJ sources say some Senegalese newspapers suggested that Jammeh had capitulated to Wade on the border issue.

The closure also follows the Senegalese government’s one-day suspension of Sud FM on October 17 for airing an interview with a rebel leader. Dozens of its staff were briefly detained and could face legal action. See CPJ’s October 17 alert.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged at the closure of Sud FM in Banjul, without warning and without explanation,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This is a further example of the contempt with which President Jammeh’s government appears to regard freedom of the press in the Gambia.”

Journalists in the Gambia face repressive legislation as well as frequent harassment and threats. Domestic news broadcasting is a virtual state monopoly. A series of arson attacks on private media outlets and the assassination of a journalist last December have so far gone unpunished.