|Modou S. Jallow (Pix: The Daily News)|
“Gambian police must immediately stop harassing Momodou Jallow for giving voice to farmers’ grievances,” Africa Advocacy Coordinator for the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ Mohamed Keita said. “Repeatedly summoning a journalist to court and threatening him with charges is intimidation designed to silence criticism.”
His call followed the arrest and release of Momodou S. Jallow, a reporter working with the privately-owned The Daily News, newspaper in Banjul, over an article captioned: "Presidential Hajj Package Scandal Chief Baldeh Allegedly Bribes Lover”.
The story was published on the newspaper on January 4, 2012, two days later, he was arrested and detained for about five hours at the Bansang police station in Brikamaba, more than 200 kilometers the Gambian capital Banjul. The Daily News reported on its January 11 edition that it gathered from the police spokesperson, Yerro Mballow that Momodou S. Jallow is charged with "libel".
However, Jallow is yet to be brought before a court of law and has been asked by the police to report to the police station on several occasions. This, the CPJ said is harassment of the journalist.
"Police in Gambia are harassing a journalist for reporting farmers’ complaints against a local official accused of mismanaging public resources," the CPJ said on January 10, citing local journalists and news reports.
In Jallow’s story in the Daily News, a rice farmer accused Chief Baldeh of misallocating a ticket sponsored by President Yahya Jammeh to travel to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the hajj. The article also cited farmers raising questions about Baldeh’s management of the finances of a local cooperative.
The Accra-based press and free expression watchdog, the Media Foundation for West Africa, MFWA said the journalist did his work diligently by carrying the other side of the story. It raises concerns over the authorities handling of the matter.
“At the time the woman was making the allegation, the chief was not there. So [Jallow] acted responsibly and contacted the chief”, the Vianna-based International Press Institute (IPI) quoted Mr. Saikou Jammeh, the newspaper's editor to have said. “This is fair and balanced. The charges are out of place.”
“No journalist should ever face criminal charges as a result of his or her work,” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. “We call for charges against Momodou S. Jallow to be dropped immediately.”