New York, July 20, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved that the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has freed two Nigerian journalists, but it’s alarmed that the pair were held for four days without charge or due process. CPJ remains deeply concerned over the state of press freedom in the Gambia.
Sam Obi, a veteran radio journalist, and Abdulgafar Oladimeji, a freelance journalist, were arrested by the NIA on Friday and held in a cell at the agency’s headquarters in Banjul until Tuesday, Oladimeji confirmed today. They were arrested after Obi launched a new publication, the Daily Express, for which Oladimeji worked as sports editor.
“The arrest of Sam Obi and Abdulgafar Oladimeji serves once again to illustrate the intolerance of Gambian authorities towards the private press,” said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ. “We are relieved that our colleagues have been released from detention, but we remain deeply concerned by the lack of due process exercised in their case.”
The inaugural issue of the Daily Express, published on July 1 to coincide with an African Union summit held in the Gambia, 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 letter referred to an article published in the Daily Express reporting that members of the Gambia’s Ghanaian community were divided over whether to welcome Ghana’s President John Kufuor at the AU summit.
Obi and Oladimeji reported to NIA headquarters on Wednesday with the newspaper’s registration documents, as they had been instructed following their release. Oladimeji told CPJ that NIA officials said the agency had no further problem with the Daily Express, and would not block its publication. However, Sulayman Makalo, who worked briefly for the Daily Express and is also the former assistant editor at the shuttered Banjul-based newspaper The Independent, has gone into hiding after NIA officials said they were looking for him, local sources told CPJ.
Another journalist, “Chief” Ebrimah B. Manneh of the pro-government 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, according to CPJ research. Officials contacted by CPJ have declined to comment on the cases.
Security forces shuttered The Independent in March. An Independent reporter, Lamin Fatty, faces trial for publishing “false news,” and could face at least six months in prison if convicted.