Producer Malick Jones was charged with communicating to an unnamed foreign journalist sensitive information in violation of state security, a charge made under the Official Secret Act. Jones, along with government Press Secretary Mam Sait Ceesay, who was also charged, were granted bail of 200,000 dalasis (US$4,000) each at the Banjul Court on Wednesday. However, before family members could pay the bail, National Intelligence Agency security officers entered the courtroom and took Jones and Ceesay into custody, local journalists reported.
“CPJ calls for the immediate, unconditional release of Malick Jones and Mam Sait Ceesay,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Detaining journalists for doing their jobs, in this case reporting on a newsworthy political event, violates the basic principles of a free press.”
A court security officer said Jones and Ceesay are still under investigation and claimed that their release may undermine the investigation.
According to police sources and the Gambian Press Union, Jones is said to have leaked false information to Ceesay, claiming that the current government press secretary, Ebrima J. T. Kujabi, will be replaced by Alex de Costa, the press officer of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. Ceesay, who was the former editor-in-chief of The Daily Observer, then passed the information on to that publication. Daily Observer reporter Osman Darboe wrote a front-page story on September 7 titled “Director of Press Replaced,” stating that Costa would take over Kujabi’s position in the near future.
The newspaper published a correction three days later confirming that Kujabi is still the government spokesman. Jones was arrested on September 7 and Ceesay the following day, reported a police source.
The director of The Daily Observer and close associate to President Yahya Jammeh, Dr. Saaja Taal, was questioned by the police last Monday, according to journalists at The Daily Observer.
Both Jones and Ceesay are being held incommunicado at Mile Two Prison in Banjul.
The Gambia has been listed this year by the the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom. Heavy censorship and attacks against the press have escalated in the Gambia since 2004, when editor Deyda Hydara from The Point newspaper was murdered. There are more than 20 Gambian journalists now living in exile around the world.