Two more journalists said to be arrested as crackdown continues

New York, July 17, 2006—Two more journalists were arrested on Friday in a government crackdown on critical voices in the run-up to September presidential elections, according to a CPJ source.

Sam Obi, a Banjul-based Nigerian who recently founded an independent newspaper called the Daily Express, is being held by the National Intelligence Agency, two local sources said. One of those sources said that Abdul Gafari, another journalist for the Daily Express, was also in NIA custody.

Capt. Lamine Saine, an NIA investigator, told CPJ he was not aware the two were being held. Since March, the government has shut one independent newspaper, detained several journalists without charge, and forced several more into hiding.

“Gambia’s authorities seem intent on stifling independent journalism through systematic harassment and arrests,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “This campaign threatens to make a mockery of the democratic elections scheduled for September.”

Obi, a veteran journalist known for his radio work, launched the Daily Express on July 1 to coincide with the African Union summit in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul. The inaugural issue reprinted a press release from a coalition of civil society organizations protesting the government’s decision to block a planned freedom of expression forum. On July 5, the pro-government Daily Observer printed a letter that accused the Daily Express of seeking to “tarnish the image of this country.”

The government stepped up its press crackdown this month after a brief respite during the AU summit. “Chief” Ebrimah B. Manneh, a journalist for the Daily Observer, has been missing since July 7 and is believed by several local sources to be in NIA custody. Former journalist Malick Mboob has been in the agency’s custody since May 26, CPJ sources said.

Sulayman Makalo, former assistant editor of the shuttered newspaper The Independent, has gone into hiding for fear of arrest. Local sources said he was under threat for his work on the Daily Express, from which he has resigned.

Security forces shuttered The Independent in March and detained three of its journalists for several weeks. Two were released without charge, but a third, Lamin Fatty, has been charged with publishing “false news” under a repressive new law which could mean at least six months imprisonment.

Read CPJ’s recent reporting on the Gambia: