New York, May 30, 2006—At least three local journalists were detained by the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on Friday as part of a growing crackdown on the U.S.-based news site Freedom Newspaper, local sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The three were arrested after their names and addresses appeared on a list of purported Freedom Newspaper contributors recently circulated on an email-list hosted by the private Gambia Post Web site.
Police on Thursday summoned everyone who appeared on the list, which was reprinted in the pro-government Daily Observer. The list identified local journalists and exiled Gambians, as well as government employees who allegedly served as sources. Freedom Newspaper is run by Pa Nderry M’bai, a Gambian journalist based in the United States. It is known for running pointed commentary criticizing President Yahya Jammeh and his ruling APRC party.
Security forces have arrested more than a dozen people, including three journalists, from the list, local sources told CPJ. The journalists detained in Friday’s sweep were Pa Modou Faal, who works for the state-owned broadcaster GRTS; Musa Shriff, a reporter for the independent magazine Gambia News & Report; and Malick Mboob, a former Daily Observer journalist. Modou Faal, who was re-arrested on Friday after being briefly detained by police, was released without charge today, while the others remained in NIA custody in the capital, Banjul.
Local sources said that some of those detained have been beaten in custody.
An NIA investigator contacted today by CPJ referred queries about the detentions to the police. Police spokesman Aziz Bojang told CPJ that “some people have cooperated [with the summonses] and have been questioned about their knowledge regarding allegations of furnishing information” to Freedom Newspaper, but he could not confirm that anyone had been detained. Bojang referred further questions to the NIA.
“Creating confusion about these detentions cannot hide the fact that Gambian authorities are responsible for what amounts to a witch hunt,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Those accused of providing information to Freedom Newspaper should be released immediately and unconditionally, and all further persecution of them should cease.”
Shriff and Mboob join another Gambian journalist who has been in NIA custody since April 10. Lamin Fatty, a reporter for the private Banjul-based newspaper The Independent, faces at least one criminal charge of publishing false information, local sources have told CPJ. Fatty has yet to appear in court, despite a Gambian law requiring that detainees be brought before a court within 72 hours.
The crackdown on the media in the Gambia comes in the lead-up to presidential elections scheduled for October and amid signs of political instability. A trial of 16 suspects accused in March of mounting a coup attempt opened on Friday.