Third journalist from leading newspaper arrested

New York, April 12, 2006—A third journalist from The Independent, a leading Gambian newspaper, was arrested at his home this afternoon, according to his colleagues. Reporter Lamin Fatty’s arrest follows that of Editor Musa Saidykhan and General Manager Madi Ceesay, who have been detained without charge since March 28.

Fatty was the author of a story headlined “23 ‘Coup Plotters’ Arrested,” which appeared in the Banjul-based Independent on March 24. Some local sources believe the journalists’ arrests may be linked to the story, although authorities offered no 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.

Colleagues said they did not know where Fatty was being held or any charges he might face. A police official told CPJ that he was unaware of the case and could not comment.

“The government is using the insecurity surrounding the apparent coup plot as an excuse to improperly detain journalists for their work,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Musa Saidykhan and Madi Ceesay have been denied due process and held without charge for two weeks. That is unacceptable. The government should release these journalists immediately and unconditionally.”

At least 27 Gambians, including former army officers and top officials, were arrested in connection with the purported coup attempt on March 21, according to the BBC. President Yahya Jammeh, in power since 1994, faces election later this year.

Last October, Saidykhan was detained and harassed by the NIA over 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.