New York, June 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of a BBC reporter held without charge by the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA), but is alarmed by the continued detention of two other journalists.
Lamin Cham was freed on Friday, sources told CPJ. He was arrested May 30 and held incommunicado as part of a government crackdown on a critical U.S.-based Web site. An NIA official and a police spokesman who spoke to CPJ on June 1 denied holding him.
Cham told Reuters that he was held in connection with Freedom Newspaper (www.freedomnewspaper.com), a critical Web site run by a U.S.-based Gambian journalist, Pa Nderry M’bai. About 12 people suspected of contributing to the site, including three other local journalists, were detained on May 26 after a list of alleged contributors was printed in the pro-government Daily Observer. M’bai told CPJ that the list was leaked by someone who hacked into his e-mail account.
Most of those detained have been released without charge, including journalists Pa Modou Faal and Musa Sheriff. However, Malick Mboob, a former Daily Observer journalist, is still in NIA custody, a local source told CPJ today. His name was not on the list that appeared on the Daily Observer Web site.
Meanwhile, police are searching for Daily Observer journalist Omar Bah, who also serves on the executive of the Gambia Press Union. Police warned the public that anyone found to have helped Bah would be prosecuted, the Daily Observer reported.
Another local journalist, Lamin Fatty of the Banjul-based newspaper The Independent, has been held by the NIA since April 10. Fatty faces at least one criminal charge of publishing false information, local sources have told CPJ. The Independent was shuttered by security forces on March 28. For more information, see CPJ’s May 17 letter.
“Gambian authorities will clearly go to any length to silence the press,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We are deeply troubled by the continued imprisonment of Malick Mboob and Lamin Fatty, who should be released immediately and unconditionally.”