CPJ calls on the Gambia to free journalist, drop charges against him

August 11, 2015

His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa
President of the Republic of the Gambia
State House
Banjul, the Gambia

Via facsimile and email

Dear President Jammeh:

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent international press freedom organization, is writing to express its concern about a Gambian journalist who has been held by the National Intelligence Agency since July 17.

Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay, manager of the independent radio station Taranga FM, was forced into a car in Banjul, the capital, on July 17, according to news reports and a relative of the journalist who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. Ceesay’s family member told CPJ the journalist was then brought to his family’s home by a group of men he identified to relatives as NIA agents. The group searched the house and took Ceesay with them when they left. They did not disclose what they were looking for, the relative said.

On August 5, Ceesay was charged with “seditious intention” for allegedly distributing pictures that authorities said were designed to “raise discontent, hatred, or disaffection among the inhabitants of the Gambia,” according to news reports. Ceesay was refused bail and has denied any wrongdoing, news reports said. He has been denied visits by his family. He is scheduled to appear in court on August 18, the reports said.

Ceesay was detained just four days after he had been held for almost two weeks by individuals suspected of being government agents, according to a family member and news reports. After he was freed, Ceesay said he was subjected to abuse and moved between several unknown locations, according to news reports that cited him.

Gambian authorities have a reputation for silencing the press, according to CPJ research. Not only have authorities arbitrarily and without explanation shut down Taranga FM three times in the past five years and NIA officers interrogated staff, but other journalists in the country have been targeted as well. Our concerns about press freedom in the country are shared by the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice (ECOWAS), which ruled in June 2014 that the Gambian government had failed to conduct a meaningful investigation into the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara and had fostered a climate of impunity in the cases of two other journalists, “Chief” Ebrima Manneh and Musa Saidykhan.

Manneh, a journalist for the pro-government newspaper Daily Observer, was arrested for unclear reasons in July 2006. Authorities have not disclosed his whereabouts or legal status and have never responded to CPJ’s repeated requests for information. Saidykhan, editor-in-chief of the now-banned private biweekly The Independent, was detained without charge by NIA agents for three weeks in 2006. He said he was tortured during his detention.

As Banjul is host to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, we believe that the Gambia should be a leader in respecting the role of the media and the right to freedom of expression. We respectfully remind you of the Gambia’s obligations under the 2002 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both of which guarantee the fundamental human right of freedom of expression and underpin the right of individual journalists and media houses to operate.

Your Excellency, we note your recent decision in July to release scores of prisoners. We urge you to do the same with Ceesay and ensure he is freed immediately and that all charges are dropped against him. By doing so, your government can demonstrate its commitment to upholding important African agreements that protect freedom of expression for all citizens.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Robert Mahoney
Deputy Director

CC List:

Lamin Nyabally, Minister of Presidential Affairs

Mama Fatima Singhateh, Minister of Justice and Attorney General

Mamadou Tangara, Permanent Representative to the United Nations