New York, April 24, 2006—Officials at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) today told staff of the private newspaper The Independent that authorities were lifting a month-long occupation of the newspaper’s offices in the capital, Banjul. General Manager Madi Ceesay, who is also secretary-general of the Gambia Press Union, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he hoped to put out an edition of the paper on Friday.
However, a journalist from The Independent, Lamin Fatty, remains in NIA custody without charge. Fatty was transferred over the weekend from an NIA cell to what the agency called “light detention,” meaning that he can move around within the building and is free to receive visitors, local journalists told CPJ. Ceesay and Independent Editor Musa Saidykhan were able to speak with Fatty today. Both journalists were themselves detained by the NIA for three weeks, before being released without charge April 20. Fatty was detained April 10.
“The authorities have produced not one shred of evidence to justify the arrest of Lamin Fatty. We view his detention as part of ongoing harassment of The Independent which has no basis in law,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally.”
Fatty was the author of a story headlined “23 ‘Coup Plotters’ Arrested,” which appeared in The Independent on March 24. Local journalists believe Fatty’s arrest was linked to the story, although authorities have offered no official explanation. The story incorrectly reported that former Interior Minister Samba Bah, who is also a former head of the National Intelligence Agency, was among those arrested in the wake of a purported coup attempt. The paper subsequently ran Bah’s response and its own apology.
A CPJ representative visited Banjul for three days last week to report on the worsening climate for press freedom.
For more information about these cases, see CPJ’s April 20 alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/africa/gambia20apr06na.html.