Gambian journalists, still held, say reason for detention unclear

New York, March 30, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by the detention since early Tuesday of two senior journalists for The Independent private newspaper, whose offices were sealed off by security forces. Police allowed Editor Musa Saidykhan and General Manager Madi Ceesay, who is also secretary-general of the Gambia Press Union, to talk to visitors for the first time today.

In a brief telephone interview, Saidykhan told CPJ that the journalists were not sure why they were being held. Saidykhan said they had not been interrogated, nor had they been allowed to see a lawyer. One police officer suggested their detention was connected to their work, he said. Saidykhan, who was arrested at his home, said he was first taken to a cell at the National Intelligence Agency, where he spent several hours before being transferred to police custody.

Gambian law requires that detainees be brought before a court within 72 hours, a period that elapses on Friday. Information Minister Neneh Mcdoll-Gaye told the BBC yesterday that the two were being investigated in connection with a purported coup attempt on March 21.

“It’s unacceptable that the government has resorted to unexplained and arbitrary arrests of two journalists and the censorship of a leading publication,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Yahya Jammeh to ensure that our colleagues Musa Saidykhan and Madi Ceesay are released immediately and unconditionally and that The Independent be allowed to resume publishing now.”

The Independent normally appears on Monday and Friday, but Assistant Editor Sulayman Makalo told CPJ that this Friday’s edition would not appear because security forces were still preventing staff from entering the paper’s offices.

The Independent has long been critical of Jammeh and his government. Last October, agents with the National Intelligence Agency detained and harassed Saidykhan in connection with an article on the unsolved December 2004 murder of prominent Gambian editor Deyda Hydara (see CPJ news alert of October 27, 2005). The Gambian government has also failed to solve a series of arson attacks on private media, including two against The Independent in 2003 and 2004.