Gambia radio station censored, director harassed after foiled coup

Abuja, Nigeria, January 8, 2015–An independent radio station that Gambian authorities ordered to stop broadcasting from January 1 to 4 after a failed coup attempt in the country has been allowed back on air, but ordered to play only music, according to news reports and local journalists.

The crackdown on community station Taranga FM came after a failed coup attempt on December 30. The station had not broadcast reports on the attempted coup, according to local journalists. On January 1, police arrested Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay, managing director of Taranga FM, and detained him in Yundum police station overnight before releasing him on bail the following day, according to news reports. He has been ordered to report daily to the police, who have not charged him or given an explanation for his harassment, local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The arbitrary censorship of Taranga FM is the latest attempt to restrict independent voices in Gambia,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative. “We call on authorities to allow the station to resume broadcasting freely and to stop harassing its staff.”

Authorities did not give any reason for the closure of the radio station, which is based in the village of Sinchu Alhagie, about 15 kilometres from the capital, Banjul, the reports said. The radio resumed broadcasting on January 4 after it was warned to play only music and stop all regular programs including current affairs, news reports said.

Media reports speculated that the failed attack on the presidential palace in Banjul on December 30, which was thwarted when guards fought off the gunmen, would be used by President Yahya Jammeh as an excuse to crackdown on the press.

While the armed attack at the presidential palace was taking place, local media did not report on it and state-owned and privately-run radio stations played only music for fear of government arrest or shut down, local journalists told CPJ. President Jammeh, who was out of the country at the time of the coup attempt, called it a terrorist attack carried out by Gambian dissidents in the U.S., Germany, and the U.K., news reports said.

Authorities have previously censored Taranga FM, which translates news from international media and local Gambian newspapers into local languages, according to CPJ research. In August 2012, security agents citing “directives from above” forced the station off the air without providing any explanation, revoked the station’s license, and took contact information about its board members, according to news reports. The ban was lifted in January 2014 as a New Year goodwill gesture, according to news reports.