In Gambia, reporter still held after arrest at sedition hearing

New York, June 23, 2009–A Gambian reporter arrested on Monday while covering a pre-trial hearing in the sedition case of seven journalists jailed last week, was still being held without charge late today, according to local journalists and news reports.

Augustine Kanjia of the private daily The Point was being held at a police station in Serrekunda, Gambia’s largest city, according to defense lawyer Assan Martin.

A plainclothes security agent whisked away the reporter on Monday after seizing his camera, Point Deputy News Editor Abba Jibba told CPJ. Kanjia was among dozens of journalists, including a camera crew from state-run Gambia Radio and Television Service, who had gathered outside a packed magistrate court in the Kanifing suburb of Serrekunda, according to local journalists.

“This arrest, in the wake of last week’s imprisonment of seven senior Gambian journalists, highlights a long-standing pattern of criminalization and intimidation of independent journalism,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on authorities to release Augustine Kanjia immediately.” 

Kanjia, a Sierra Leone native who fled during that country’s civil war, joined The Point in 1994, according to Jibba.

The journalists charged with sedition had criticized President Yahya Jammeh for what they saw as insensitive comments about the unsolved 2004 murder of Point Editor Deyda Hydara. 

Since 2001, at least 10 journalists have fled persecution and abuse in the Gambia, one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom, according to CPJ research.