Two Gambian journalists released; third still in custody

New York, April 20, 2006—Two senior journalists from a leading Gambian newspaper were released without charge today after three weeks in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Editor Musa Saidykhan and General Manager Madi Ceesay of the Banjul-based Independent were told to report to the NIA Friday morning, Ceesay told CPJ.

A third journalist from The Independent, Lamin Fatty, remains in custody at the NIA, said Ceesay, who is also secretary-general of the Gambia Press Union. Fatty was arrested on April 10, although his colleagues were not aware of his arrest until two days later. An NIA official refused to discuss the case with a CPJ representative who traveled to Banjul, and colleagues have not been allowed to visit him in detention.

Security forces have continued to occupy the offices of The Independent since arresting Saidykhan and Ceesay on March 28, another local source told CPJ.

“Gambian authorities have acted outrageously toward these journalists, holding them without charge and sowing confusion about the reasons and whereabouts of their detention,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Lamin Fatty must be released immediately and unconditionally, and all further harassment of our colleagues at The Independent should cease.”

Fatty was the author of a story headlined “23 ’Coup Plotters’ Arrested,” which appeared in The Independent on March 24. Some local sources believe the journalists’ arrests may be linked to the story, although authorities have 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.

For more information on these cases, see CPJ alerts from April 12 and March 28.