Gambian President Yahya Jammeh speaks to reporters as he leaves a polling station in Banjul November 24. (AFP)
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh speaks to reporters as he leaves a polling station in Banjul November 24. (AFP)

Gambian president vilifies journalists in remarks

New York, November 28, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s public remarks on Thursday, in which he vilified members of the press. The following day, Jammeh won his fourth term in office as president.

After casting his ballot in the presidential elections in Banjul, the capital, Jammeh told reporters, “They talk about rights, human rights, and freedom of the press, and [say that] this country is a hell for journalists. There are freedoms and responsibilities. The journalists are less than 1 percent of the population, and if anybody expects me to allow less than 1 percent of the population to destroy 99 percent of the population, you are in the wrong place,” he said, according to news reports. On Friday, news accounts reported that Jammeh won the election with 72 percent of the vote.

“I don’t have an opposition–what we have are people that hate the country, and I will not work with them,” Jammeh also said. “They have gone around the world to tarnish the image of this country.” He declared Gambians to be “development-oriented people,” and said that “in 17 years, I have delivered more development than the British were able to deliver in 400 years,” news reports said. “No western country can tell me about democracy,” he added.

“We are appalled by President Yahya Jammeh’s use of scornful and contemptuous language to publicly intimidate the weakened Gambian media into further self-censorship while offering Gambians a false choice between press freedom and development,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Jammeh must immediately retract these statements, which endanger journalists in a country where attacks on media houses and murders of journalists remain unpunished.”

The Economic Community of West African States, of which Gambia is a member state, refused to send observers to certify the country’s elections, citing in a November 22 statement “intimidation, an unacceptable level of control of the electronic media by the party in power, the lack of neutrality of state and para-statal institutions, and an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation,” news reports said. Gambian authorities dismissed the accusations, the BBC reported.

In March, Jammeh threatened local journalists with imprisonment if they criticized his policies, CPJ research showed. In August, authorities forced an independent radio station to drop its news program in local languages, leaving the government-controlled station GRTS complete control of domestic news coverage, according to CPJ research.