Friday, September 28, 2012

News round-up on deteriorating press freedom in Gambia

  • Drop charges against journalists: GPU 
  • IPI concern at efforts to censor Gambian media  
  • GPU raise concerns at failing press freedom in Gambia 
  • Gambia: Public reacts to closure of media  
  • Reopen Taranga FM: Hon. Magassy 
  • British parliament sit on Gambia
  • MFWA Protests the inexplicable charges preferred against two journalists in The Gambia

Press Statement: MFWA Protests the inexplicable charges preferred against two journalists in The Gambia 

September 27, 2012

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), a freedom of expression and media rights organisation based in Accra, Ghana, is concerned and dismayed about recent criminal charges against two journalists in The Gambia; after they were detained for seeking Police permit to peacefully demonstrate.

The MFWA learnt from its sources that two separate charges were preferred against the two journalists, Boubacarr Ceesay, first vice president of the Gambian Press Union (GPU) and Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelance journalist on September 21, 2012 after they reported to the police headquarters in Banjul as their bail condition requires.
The two were arrested on September 6, 2012 and spent four days in detention. 
On September 10, they were charged with “conspiracy to commit felony” and released on a bail bond of 250,000 Gambian Dalasis (about US$8,330) each, with one Gambian surety.
However, according to the sources, Ceesay now faces an additional charge of “seditious publication” for an article the Police claim he published on Kenya-based Africa Review website.
Saidykhan. On the other hand received an additional charge of “inciting violence” under section 59 (b) of the criminal code.
Both journalists now face two separate criminal charges and are yet to appear before a Court of law.
The MFWA heightens its call on the Gambian authorities to drop these charges, since Section 25 (1d) of the Gambian Constitution guarantees the right to peaceful demonstration; “freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms”
We further believe that by seeking police authorisation, the journalists demonstrated their respect and faith in the authorities and their preparedness to uphold the principle of non-violence. 
We thus, request the Gambian Police to stop this wavering and exonerate the journalists of all charges, since all facts prove they acted in the confines of Gambian laws.
The MFWA calls on all individuals, partners, organisations and bodies to reproduce, comment on and publish this document on your websites, newspaper publications, blogging sites, face book pages, twitter, and all other platforms to increase awareness and alert The Gambian authorities to;
·         Acknowledge that, by applying for a police permit to peacefully demonstrate, the journalists acted in the confines of the law; 
·         Uphold and ensure the right to freedom of expression, protect and safeguard all citizens including human rights activists and media personnel; 
·         Respect the Constitution of The Gambia, specifically, Section 25 (1d) which entrenches the right to peaceful demonstration; freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms;
·         Act in accordance with all international human rights laws and treaties that The Gambia has ratified. 

Issued by the MFWA, Accra on September 27, 2012 
The MFWA is a regional independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Accra. It was founded in 1997 to defend and promote the rights and freedom of the media and all forms of expression. 

Drop charges against journalists: GPU

The Gambia Press Union (GPU) has called on the Gambia Government to immediately drop charges against journalists, Babucarr Ceesay, GPU 1st vice president and Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelancer. 
Ceesay is now facing three charges of “Incitement to violence, conspiracy to commit felony, and seditious intention” while Saidykhan faces two charges of “Incitement to violence and conspiracy to commit felony.”

The charges brought against the two by the Interpol Unit of the Gambia police force, stem from a letter of request addressed to the Inspector General of Police, asking for a permit to demonstrate peacefully against the August execution of nine death row inmates by the Jammeh-government.

On September 24, the GPU called on the Gambian authorities to drop the charges against the two journalists who were arrested on September 6, 2012 and released on bail on September 10, 2012 after they had been charged with incitement of violence and conspiracy to commit felony.

The GPU said it wishes to bring to the attention of the authorities that the right to peaceful demonstration is enshrined under Section 25 sub-section 1 (d) of the Second Republican Constitution and it states “Every person shall have the right to freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms.”

It further state that the right to free expression is an inviolable right enshrined under 25 sub-section 1 (a) of the Second Republican Constitution, which states “Every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall, include freedom of the press and other media.”

Therefore it is our view that the duo has not acted outside the limits of the Constitutional Provisions cited earlier, nor have they flouted the Public Order Act as well,” the GPU said. “It is our view that by applying for a permit to hold a peaceful demonstration, they do not only want to express their views, but that they want to do it within the confines of the law.”

It reminded the police that the office of the Inspector General of Police is mandated by law to use its discretion in granting or disapproving an application for a permit. If in the case of the duo, the Police feel that based on genuine reasons; they cannot grant their application for a permit, then they are at liberty to turn it down. 

However, the GPU stressed: “If the Police proceed to arrest and proffer charges against the duo for merely applying for a permit to allow them to express their views within the confines of the law, it means the action of the duo is being criminalized and this would be at variance with the principles of democracy.”

The Police Force is made up of honourable men and women and as such they should continue rendering good services to humanity, it added. It is in the interest of national reconciliation, human rights, democracy and the rule of law that the Police drop the charge against the duo. 

“The State has nothing to lose by dropping the charge against the duo, whereas charging the duo to court would give the impression that The Gambia which is known as the “Smiling Coast” brooks no dissent,” it concluded.

On Saturday, one of the accused, Saidykhan told The Voice: “In my opinion, it is trite law that justice delayed is justice denied. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.”

IPI concern at efforts to censor Gambian media

“We are very concerned at another apparent effort to censor the Gambian media,” International Press Institute (IPI) Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi has said. “We hope that this issue is swiftly resolved so that The Daily News and The Standard newspapers can resume publication.”

Two Gambian newspapers received orders on September 14, 2012 to immediately cease operations, according to local journalists, in what is apparently the second attempt within a month to censor Gambian media.

That Friday, Sep. 14, three plainclothes officers from the National Intelligence Agency visited the offices of The Daily News and The Standard and told them to immediately cease operations, an order that the agents said had come from the office of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, local journalists told IPI.

Saikou Jammeh, chief editor of The Daily News, and Sheriff Bojang, chief editor of The Standard, told IPI that their papers have temporarily ceased publication until they learn more about the apparent order. According to Jammeh and Bojang, while the men who visited their offices were known NIA officers, they neither showed identification nor provided any written order for closure.

Jammeh told IPI that, as far as he knows, there are only two legal ways to shut down a newspaper in The Gambia – either with a court order, or on specific police instructions, for example if the newspaper’s office was the scene of a crime that is under investigation. 
Bojang was similarly unclear about the nature of the order to close his paper.
“It was on Friday; we were having some training course at our offices in Bakau, which is about 10 kilometres from Banjul,” he told IPI. “Three gentlemen came and said they were from the office of the President and said we should cease with immediate effect.”
Bojang said he asked the men why they should stop, and for how long they should stop, but was told to “find out from the office of the president.”  

The newspapers are currently trying to find out more information about the order.

The Daily News is published three days a week, while The Standard is a daily paper. Both privately-owned English-language newspapers have covered sensitive political issues, including the recent execution of nine death row inmates in The Gambia. 

“President Jammeh was heavily criticized by international rights groups for the executions,” IPI noted.

It was not immediately clear whether the apparent orders to stop the newspapers were the result of any one issue. 

“I don’t think there is any immediate trigger, although the whole of last week we’ve been running pretty typical although also balanced opinion on the execution of the nine death row inmates,” Bojang said. “Some were very critical. […] But of course we had people from the government side as well, so we thought it was balanced coverage."

“Ever since they executed those nine people, [the two newspapers] have a lot of people to speak on this issue both locally and internationally,” Jammeh said.

“This is the second time in a month that the Gambian authorities have censored the media,” IPI said, noting “In August, Taranga FM was shut down after it was warned to stop a program that translated newspaper reports into local languages.  It remains off the air.”

GPU raise concerns at failing press freedom in Gambia

The main journalists’ body, the Gambian Press Union (GPU) have raised concerns over what it called “deteriorating media freedom” in the Gambia.

The Union’s statement of September 26 followed the recent closure of two leading privately-owned newspapers, The Standard and The Daily News. The daily and tri-weekly papers were ordered to cease operation on September 14 by three men in plain cloth who claim to be state agents. They said, according to the two newspapers, that the order to close the papers comes from President Jammeh’s office.
The GPU called on the government to reverse the closing down of two newspapers.
“The media play a crucial role in not only nurturing the ideals of democracy and human rights, but also give voice to the voiceless,” the GPU said, while recognising the contributions by the two papers in promoting democracy in the country by providing a platform for both the government and the opposition.

Both The Standard and The Daily News have stop publishing since, but it is not clear why they were targeted. The decision to censure the papers followed a heated debate within and without the tiny West African country on the August execution of nine death row inmates, which the papers reported extensively.  

Last month, an independent community radio, Taranga FM, situated in the Kombo North District of the West Coast Region, was shut down upon orders said to have come from the President’s office.

Currently, journalists, Babucarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan are facing charges which include “incitement to violence, conspiracy to commit felony, and seditious publication”. The charges stem from a letter of request for a permit to hold peaceful demonstration against the Government’s execution of nine death row inmates by firing squad.

Ceesay, a 1st vice president of the GPU and a correspondent of the Africa Review, an online publication owned by the Nairobi-based media group, Nations Media, and Saidykhan, a freelance journalist, have seen their charges increasing by the day since their release from detention on September 10.

The Gambia Press Union (GPU) has called on the Gambia Government to immediately drop charges against the two journalists, citing sections of the 1997 constitution of the Gambia which guarantees freedom to assemble, demonstrate peaceably and freedom of expression and of the press.

Gambia: Public reacts to closure of media

Sulayman Ceesay, The Voice Newspaper

The two publications confirmed recently that on September 14, three men who claim to be state security agents stormed their offices and asked them to cease operations immediately. Orders, claimed to be from the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s Office, State House. 

Last month a similar raid at a privately-owned independent radio station, Taranga FM forced it to close down on August 15, 2012. There was no court order and no explanations were given in all three cases.

As The Voice newspaper reports, some Gambians sympathetic to the media in the country express concerns at the recent censure of two of the leading privately-owned newspapers, The Daily News, a tri-weekly publication and The Standard, a daily publication.

“Information is very vital in our daily lives and it help us to act intelligently, so if those mouths giving us information that we can act upon are closed, it will affect our daily lives,” 63 year-old Mr. Lamin Saine said on Tuesday September 25, 2012.  

Mr. Saine, a resident of Bundung, is fan of The Daily News. “I read it frequently. The Daily News is the paper that can satisfy my thirst for news, hence I am a good follower of the paper,” he said.

“The closure of these newspapers came to me as a surprise, especially that of The Daily News because I did not see anything that they’ve published that will compel the government or authorities to close them,” he stressed.

He said the closure of these newspapers affected many people who rely on them for information.

“I did not see any newspaper that is pro or anti government, they all give news, but their way of giving news is different, they all have the same intention that is contributing to the socio-economic development of our country,” the retired teacher said.

 He called on the authorities concerned to allow the censored media houses to resume operation. He also urge journalists to continue being responsible in their duties of informing and educating the public. 

Mr. Sainey Camara, a student of the Management Development Institute (MDI) and a resident of Banjuliding, said Gambian authorities should distance themselves from such acts. 

“It is giving a bad name to the country in the world,” he said.

“Newspapers play a very important role in the development of any country and they also act as the mediator between the government and the people. People rely on media to know what our government is doing or wants to do,” he said. “I believe that without newspapers or media, there can be no genuine development in the any country. I call on the authorities to respect the public’s right to information.”

For Dawda Saidy, a G4S private security officer says closing media houses without any reason is wrong, but believes these media houses must have done something that compelled the authorities to ask them to stop operation. 

“For the past two weeks, there were many talks or reports in the media about the recent execution, maybe they wrote something that did not go down well with the authorities,” he opined. 

Similar comments were made by a lady, going by the name Jabou Jobe, a civil servant. She believes Gambian authorities will not close media houses without reasons. 

“There must be a reason. That is why they were asked to make inquiries to the office of the president, and if they do they will know why,” she said.

 She said the importance of the media in the country is undisputed, but argues people working in this sector need to be responsible, writing negative things about your government will not do any good.
“We should not focus on the negative side only, there are positive sides too, there are many development projects going on in the country. Why not we highlight these things on our papers,” she asked.

The law did not say these media houses should be closed, it deny people receiving information in different ways and from different sources, argued Mr. Malang Darboe, a Tabokoto-resident businessman.
“How can you just wake up one day and close media houses like that without any reason. I think there should be a legal procedure,” he said while urging the authorities to respect the laws and allow the media houses to resume operations.

Reopen Taranga FM: Hon. Magassy

By Bakary Ceesay, The Voice Newspaper

Hon. Muhammed Magassy, an independent National Assembly Member for Basse Constituency on Wednesday called on the authority concerned to reopen Taranga FM radio station.

The Sinchu Alagie-Kombo North-based community radio situated in the West Coast Region was forced to shut down on August 15, 2012 after state agents stormed its offices and give what they called “the final order for the radio to cease operation”. 

During a September 26, 2012 adjournment debate of the 3rd legislative session of the National Assembly, Hon. Magassy looks at the important role played by the FM station and suggests the Government should allow it to resume operation.

 “Taranga FM radio station plays a vital role in the country by informing and sensitizing the uneducated Gambians who cannot read newspapers by reviewing it for them,” he said.

No reasons were advanced as to why the radio was forced to close. However, the Basse parliamentarian thinks if they do any wrong the authority concerned should call on the management of the radio to address it and allow the radio to continue normal broadcast.

“We need the media to inform, educate and entertain the citizens, but as at now the situation of media in the country is not smooth,” he said.

Magassy also raises converns over the fate of two staff of Taranga FM who are being sponsored currently studying at the University of the Gambia. 

“The continuous closure of the station will affect their studies,” Magassy who won the ruling party’s all-time favourite, Hon. Sellu Baldeh in March’s parliamentary polls said. “I urge the authorities to re-open the station for the benefit of Gambians who cannot read and are depending on the station for their source of information.”

Kujabi disagreed

However, Hon. Matarr Kujabi, member for Foni Bondali disagreed. He thank the government for closing Taranga FM, saying media houses are aimed at “informing, educating and entertaining but not to incite violence.”

“There is a need for the closure of Taranga FM because the ways they operate are baseless and make unfounded allegations against people,” he claim.

However, the Speaker of the National Assembly Hon. Abdoulie Bojang said it has not been independently verified whether the closure of the station is from the authorities. 

Hon. Pa Malick Ceesay, member for Lower Saloum, is of the view that those talking about Taranga FM have not made actual findings about the matter.

“We all listen to Taranga FM and media houses should be allowed to provide sanity but not to relay insults which will be detrimental to us,” he argued.

But Hon. Samba Cham, member for Central Baddibou knows journalism is crucial to national development. He said in journalism, there must be a professional code of conduct guiding practicing journalists.
He noted that Taranga FM has a valid license to operate but believes there must be a reason for their closure.

British parliament sit on Gambia

On its 13th Session in 2012 and its 2nd session on Gambia’s human rights situation, the British parliament said it is “deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of human rights violations in The Gambia.”

The session, titled: “Human Rights in The Gambia (No.2)” was tabled on September 13 and its primary sponsor Clark, Katy

During the session, the house notes with concern that two Gambian journalists, Babucarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan, were arrested after requesting permission to demonstrate as required by Gambian law.

The British parliament stressed it is “very concerned by the continued unlawful arrests, harassment and detention of journalists and activists who are seen as opponents of the Gambian government.”
 They further note that there have been recent occurrences as reported by Amnesty International where nine prisoners, including one woman, were executed by firing squad; 

“Is deeply troubled by reports of the Gambian government's national address on the Muslim festival of Eid saying that it would execute all prisoners on death row within the next calendar month; 

“Is aware that these 38 prisoners are perceived to be opponents of the Gambian government and have been convicted of treason; is extremely concerned for the safety of those Gambians who are seen as opponents of the Gambian government; 

“And calls on the Government to raise urgently the case of human rights with the Gambian government as well as looking for opportunities to safeguard the human rights of Gambian nationals including prisoners as set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,” the British parliament agreed.

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