Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: The Gambia
As of December 31, 1998

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Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh seized power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant, and was elected president in the September 1996 elections that were fraught with irregularities. Jammeh's efforts to shed his image as a military strongman and remake himself into a civilian leader have brought him some international credibility and the return of foreign aid that had been cut off during the earlier years of his dictatorship. The independent media, however, have yet to receive any benefits from the president's makeover; press freedom violations that began after the 1994 coup have escalated rather than declined.

The 1996 Newspaper Decrees #70 and #71 enacted exorbitant fines for any contravention of the 1994 Newspaper Act, which criminalizes the failure of independent publications to register annually with the government, and increased the registration bond for existing newspapers by 100 percent. State-owned publications are not subject to these decrees, whose clear intent is to financially cripple the independent press and thereby eliminate the competition. The state-run radio station, Radio Gambia, broadcasts censored news, and the country's only television station is firmly under state control. "Political literature" is also barred by decree.

On February 5, agents of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which has far-reaching powers of arrest, exercised that power on the owner and news editor of Citizen FM radio after the station reported that the director of the NIA was involved in a counterfeiting scandal. The following day, NIA agents returned and sealed the radio station's offices, which it shared with the independent newspaper  New Citizen, forcing the station to go off the air and the newspaper to stop publishing. On August 28, a Banjul court fined the journalists, and confiscated their equipment.

In this hostile climate, many journalists who have been targeted with reprisals for their critical coverage of the state and its policies increasingly face bankruptcy as a result of the state's unrelenting assault.
Attacks on the Press in The Gambia in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
8/30/98 Theophilus George, Daily Observer Harassed
8/30/98 Baba Galeh Jallow, Daily Observer Harassed
8/30/98 Demba Jawa, Daily Observer Harassed
2/5/98 Boubacar Gaye, Citizen FM radio Imprisoned
2/5/98 Ebrima Sillah, Citizen FM radio Imprisoned
2/5/98 Citizen FM radio Censored
2/5/98 New Citizen Censored

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