Police summon Web site contributors

New York, May 26, 2006—Police in the Gambia on Monday summoned contributors and sources for the U.S.-based Web site Freedom Newspaper(http://www.freedomnewspaper.com). Local sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists today that at least one local journalist was detained in connection with the summonses, and that others may have been picked up by security forces. Calls by CPJ to police officials and Information Minister Neneh Mcdoll-Gaye went unanswered today.

Those summoned were on a list of purported contributors to Freedom Newspaper that was recently circulated on an email-list hosted by the private Web site Gambia Post (http://www.gambiapost.net/), according to Freedom Newspaper’s editor, Pa Nderry M’bai, a Gambian journalist based in the United States.

The police summons, which was published today in the pro-government Daily Observer, announced that “the Security Services are in possession of the full list of persons who continuously supplied [M’bai] with information, which he used to castigate and vilify the democratically elected government of His Excellency, President Dr Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh.” The Daily Observer also published the entire list, which identifies the names and addresses of dozens of people based inside the Gambia and in the diaspora. The list includes local journalists as well as government employees who allegedly served as sources. M’bai’s home address was also printed in the paper.

At least one journalist employed by the state broadcaster Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) was detained and questioned by police today, a local source told CPJ. The journalist, whose name was on the list published by the Daily Observer, was released without charge, the source said.

On Wednesday, the Daily Observer published an article alleging that M’bai leaked the list of contributors himself after announcing that he would support President Jammeh’s re-election bid in elections scheduled for October this year. M’bai denied the assertions in an interview with CPJ and in a statement posted on Freedom Newspaper.

“It is outrageous that Gambian authorities are targeting contributors to an independent news site,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “This dictatorial attempt to stifle independent reporting comes on the heels of a growing crackdown on the Gambian media.”

Gambian journalists face repressive legislation, along with frequent harassment and threats. Authorities are now holding one journalist and have arrested two others within the last two months. One newspaper was shuttered in late March.

Lamin Fatty, a reporter for the private Banjul-based newspaper, The Independent, has been detained by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) since April 10 without due process or access to legal counsel. The government has given no public explanation for Fatty’s detention. An NIA investigator, Lamine Saine, told CPJ that Fatty was charged with publishing “false news” but was unable to provide any details of the charge, while Fatty’s colleagues say he has not appeared in court since his arrest. Gambian law requires that detainees be brought before a court within 72 hours.

Gambian security forces sealed off The Independent’s offices on March 28, and have prevented the paper from operating since then. For more information, see CPJ’s May 17 protest letter: