GPU Condemns Attack on Journalists, Warns Gov’t Any Violence on Journalist Will Be Challenged
The Gambia Press Union Secretary General, Saikou Jammeh has told reporters on Monday that any forms of attacks on press freedom will be highly challenged in courts including regional jurisprudence.
Four journalists were arrested and are still being held at unknown places following the violent protest which ensued between the police and ‘Three Years Jotna’ protesters was held on Sunday.
The Union called for a press conference stating that, the past 24 hours witnessed the most aggressive attack on press freedom since the new government assumed office 2017.
“Between 12 noon and 2pm yesterday, two radio stations have been forced to cease operations and four journalists arrested within the same period of two hours, or thereabouts,” said Jammeh.
Physical assault was also recorded against a journalist at the protest ground. However this violence came from both sides – the protesters and the police. Sankulleh Janko, a reporter for Dakar-based West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) was attacked by a group of protesters who were visibly angry and violent and were armed with sticks.
“They manhandled him and forcefully took away his equipment, including his mobile phone. If not for the intervention of one of the protesters, the reporter who’s one of the country’s promising young journalists, would have been seriously harmed, perhaps killed,” the union says.
“In the afternoon, about a dozen armed personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) of the Gambia Police Force (GPF) stormed the offices of Home Digital FM in Brikama and ordered the staff to cease operations with immediate effect. The manager Pa Modou Bojang was taken away from his studio by the police.
“Although the authorities have refused to confirm his whereabouts, we have learnt through reliable sources that he was detained at the PIU headquarters in Kanifing before he was taken to Anti-Crime offices in Bijilo,” Jammeh stated.
After the closure of the Home Digital, King Fm was also shut and three people, including the manager Gibbi Jallow were whisked away.
“We are in receipt of the press release that the government issued, confirming the closure as well as the arrest and detention. The release states that radio stations were shut down because they were ‘broadcasting incendiary’ messages. This is unfounded and disappointing.”
“For we have confirmed from multiple sources, including from the manager, that King FM did not broadcast any information about the protest. The station had throughout the day, until the time it was closed, been playing music that has no bearing on the disturbances,” he said.
The Union confirmed that Home Digital FM was indeed broadcasting messages about the protest but they have also confirmed from multiple sources, including the staff and listeners that there was nothing incendiary about the broadcasts of the events.
“We’re of the considered view that the closure of the radio stations was arbitrary and unlawful.”
“Equally, the proclamation contained in yesterday’s press release which appears to warn journalists against presenting divergent views is equally as dangerous as it is unlawful.
“It has no legitimate basis, and therefore, we call on the media to disregard it and present as diverse opinions as possible on any issue of legitimate public interest and the issue of the tenure of the president is one such issue.”
The Union vows to challenge any attempt by the government to pursue further with the implementation of this proclamation.
“We know why the radio stations were shut down. We know why the journalists were arrested and detained. It is the same reason Deyda Hydara was murdered under Jammeh, it is the same reason Chief Manneh was killed under Jammeh, it is the same reason media houses were shut down fifteen times between 1994 and 2016 under Jammeh, It is the same reason dozens of journalists were tortured under Jammeh, it is the same reason more than 20 percent of Gambian journalists were forced into exile under Jammeh, and it is the same reason more than two dozen journalists were assaulted under Barrow and nothing is done about.”
“In fact, yesterday’s attacks bring to memory twenty-years of the brutal repression of the media. The modus operandi of this government bears the hallmark of the tactics used by the former government in its disregard for press freedom and the rule of law, Jammeh added.
He said as a union, they have engaged the services of a lawyer to secure the release of the journalists under custody and launch civil action against the state on matters connected with this arrest and detention before any court of law that has the competence to preside over such.