Country Summary

On Sept. 24, Captain Yahya Yammeh, leader of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction Party, transformed himself from military strongman to president in flawed and unfair elections which excluded The Gambia’s main opposition politicians. Yammeh’s monopoly of the state broadcast media denied his few challengers access to radio and television to air their platforms. And the independent press suffered routine harassment for publishing opposing or critical views during the period leading up to the election.

In February, Yammeh’s Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) issued Decrees 70 and 71, which modify the 1944 Newspaper Act and require all independent newspapers to pay an increased registration bond of 100,000 dalasis (US$10,000) and provide property as collateral. State-owned publications are not subject to these decrees, whose clear intent is to cripple the independent press financially and eliminate the competition. CPJ protested the imposition of the decrees to the Gambian government and urged that they be revoked.

Journalists who report on government corruption, or criticize the government or its officials, are frequently charged with violation of Article 212 of The Gambia’s draft constitution, which places restrictions on the media for “reasons of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputation, rights and freedoms of others.” In March, for the first time in the history of The Gambia’s press, four independent publishers were charged with violating Section 5 of the Newspaper Act for failing to submit their newspapers’ annual registration documents after the AFPRC deemed failure to register a criminal offense.

Since the elections, the government’s harassment of the private press has taken many forms: bans on state-run printing presses’ production of independent newspapers; unprecedented charges against editors and publishers for violations of the Newspaper Act; routine detention of journalists who refuse to name their sources, causing others to flee the country rather than divulge this information; and threats of deportation against immigrant employees of the private press.

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