A Gambian journalist remembers torture in detention

By Alhagie Mbye/UK Correspondent for The Point on June 19, 2009 1:46 PM ET

The unlawful detention of seven Gambian journalists since last Monday is serious cause for concern. These respected journalists were detained at the National Intelligence Agency headquarters in Banjul for "interrogation." They have been denied access by legal representation, family members, friends, or colleagues. On Thursday, they were charged with sedition for criticizing President Yahya Jammeh's televised comments about the unsolved 2004 murder of editor Deyda Hydara.

The detained journalists are: Pap Saine, co-publisher and managing editor of The Point; Sam Sarr, editor of Foroyaa; Ebrima Sawaneh, news editor of The Point; Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, vice president of the Gambia Press Union; Pa Modou Faal, union treasurer; Emil Touray, union secretary-general; and Abubakr Saidy Kahn, a reporter with Foroyaa. Security forces also arrested Abba Gibba, an editor with The Point, on Thursday, according to the press union.   

It is unfortunate that a trend of unlawful arrest, detention, and oppression of Gambian journalists continues. As a Gambian journalist who has been arrested on many occasions--and tortured with electrocution by security forces--I am very worried about what may happen to the arrested journalists.

In 2001, I published a story in the London-based West Africa Magazine alleging that thousands of non-citizens had been illegally registered in order to vote for Jammeh. I was detained for eight days and tortured in reprisal. I still shudder when remembering being locked inside something called "bambadinka" (a crocodile's hole). The "hole" is a dark room with no ventilation and infested with mosquitoes and human waste. There is no furniture; the only object in the place is an electrical torture device.

During my detention, the justice of the High Court said: "Only the Gestapo of Hitler could come anywhere near so brutal, sinister, and illegal detention since no affidavit was filed before me by the attorney general of the Republic of the Gambia to justify or explain the reason(s) behind the detention of Alhagie Mbye."

It is important to note that the Gambian constitution says: ''Every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed innocent until he or she is proved, or has pleaded guilty; shall be informed at the time he or she is charged, in a language which he or she understands and in detail of the nature of the offense charged; shall be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his her defense; shall be permitted to defend him self or herself before the court in person or, at his or her own expense, by a legal representative."

But the journalists in custody now were kept without charges until the last possible moment and then whisked in front of a magistrate to face a spurious sentence with no access to legal consul. Furthermore, Section 207 of the constitution of The Gambia clearly guarantees the right to a free media.

I hope and pray the rule of law will be abided and that no Gambian journalist shall face further persecution for simply doing their job. 

Alhagie Mbye was a senior reporter for the Gambian private weekly The Independent and is currently The Point's United Kingdom correspondent.


Mr Mbye's narrative brings back some terrifying memories. As a journalist arrested by the same authorities over five times, once with Pap Saine I know exactly how it feels! This is why all concerted efforts need to be undertaken to ensure the safe and immediate release of our colleagues. You would think The Gambian authorities would learn from their mistakes....But then its been Yahya Jammeh's determination to terminate the Independent Gambian press since coming to power. Many like him have tried but are now biting their fingers! One thing Jammeh fails to realise is that GOVERNMENTS COME AND GO BUT THE JOURNALISTS STAY!

Alieu Badara Sowe June 20, 2009 10:17:13 AM ET

Mr Mbe is one of the finest young writers in the Gambia. he is a good narator all is not lost we will come out victrious at the end of the tonel. ma addvice to fellow journalists is lets keep writing God i8s with us
Long live Gambian journalists

Since becoming acquainted with a Gambian journalist who is seeking asylum in the UK and hearing first hand, what is happening in that country, I have decided to mount a vigil tomorrow MONDAY 20 JULY in Glasgow at the statue of Donald Dewar, Scotland's first, First Minister which is at the top of Buchanan Street. From 8am till 4pm when the journalists in the Gambia are expected to be in court to face charges of sedition, anyone who wishes to show solidarity is invited to drop by and leave a message. Those expected to come between 12 noon and 2pm include the President of the National Union of Journalists, James Doherty and Westminster MP Mohammad Sarwar or his son Anas Sarwar as well as MSPS, City Councillors and Members of the Scottish Parliament and ordinary citizens.
Grace Franklin
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