In Gambia, harassment forces a reporter into hiding

New York, July 5, 2007—A freelance Gambian reporter went into hiding last week after being harassed by several individuals, including an executive of the pro-government daily and suspected security agents, about his alleged links to the regional press freedom group Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA), according to the group and CPJ sources.

Ghana-based MFWA has been calling attention to press freedom abuses in the Gambia, recently taking the government to court to demand the release of journalist “Chief” Ebrima B. Manneh, imprisoned without charge or trial a year ago this week.

Momodou Lamin Jaiteh, a correspondent for the Senegal-based Pan African News Agency, said he received a phone call on Friday from Saja Taal, managing editor of the pro-government Daily Observer and a close ally of President Yahya Jammeh, he told CPJ from an undisclosed location. In the exchange, which Jaiteh described as an “interrogation,” Taal allegedly questioned the journalist about his professional background and alleged links to MFWA, he said. Jaiteh denied any links with MFWA.

In a telephone interview with CPJ, Taal said he questioned Jaiteh in connection with an “inquiry” to identify MFWA sources “within his establishment” and their associates. Madi Ceesay, president of the Gambia Press Union and a recipient of CPJ’s 2006 International Press Freedom Award, told CPJ he also received a call from Taal inquiring about Jaiteh.

The journalist subsequently received repeated phone calls from an individual identifying himself only as “Mr. Jallow,” he said. The individual asked Jaiteh about his present whereabouts, insisting on hand-delivering a letter to him. Three plainclothes men also appeared at Jaiteh’s home asking about his whereabouts, sources close to his family told CPJ. Those sources said they suspect the men were security agents.

“Momodou Lamin Jaiteh is the latest in a long line of journalists in the Gambia to be harassed,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on President Yahya Jammeh to use all his influence to ensure that the intimidation of our colleague stops immediately and that he can resume work in safety.”

In May, CPJ named the Gambia one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.

MFWA’s coverage of press freedom abuses in the Gambia is often reprinted by the handful of private publications in the country despite an intense climate of self-censorship.