By Lamin Saddam Sanyang in The Netherlands
The freedom of the media in the Gambia was seized on the 22nd of July 1994, when our democratic government was forcefully overthrown by President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh and his bunch of criminals.
From that day to date, so many rights, including those of the media continue to be violated by the bandit administration. Many journalists have become victims of arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, incarceration, torture, disappearance and even murder. The unfriendly climate forced many journalists to flee into exile. Most of these exiled journalists would prefer to stay home and work for their beloved country if they were given the guarantee to exercise their rights without facing security challenges. Instead they sought asylum in foreign countries. Sadly, some have lost interest in their noble trade after enduring the worst mistreatment in a place they call home.
Despite the official onslaught on the media, some good sons and daughters of the ink confronted the rotten system. This was done at the expense of their life, family and property. One such hero was the late Deyda Hydara, the Editor and Co-founder of The Point newspaper. Mr. Hydara, an avid pillar of press freedom, was a fierce critic of the Gambia government’s open hostility to the media. Instead of being crowned a hero, the Lion was brutally gunned down by Jammeh and his bunch of criminals.
Hydara’s case was not the only straw on the camel’s back as it would follow barrage of systematic attacks on Gambian journalists. The case of Chief Ebrima Manneh, a pro-government newspaper journalist, still rings a bell of fear, anguish and hopelessness. Since his arrest and illegal detention in July 2006 by plainclothes officers, Manneh’s whereabouts remain unknown. The Gambia government did not have the courage to the family, friends and concerned people across the world about what had happened to the young journalist. The Jammeh government has left the Manneh family in permanent uncertainty.
Also mistreated by the monster regime were journalists Abubacarr Saidykhan and Mr. Babucarr Ceesay who were unlawfully arrested and detained for exercising their constitutional and democratic rights to stage a peaceful protest.
Another journalist who became the Jammeh government’s brutality was the former the Editor of The Independent newspaper. Illegally arrested and detained in the wake of a reported foiled coup of March 21st, 2006, Musa Saidykhan was severely tortured by President Yahya Jammeh’s Personal Protection Officers. The tortures left him in a coma and lacerated marks all over his body. Musa’s arrest followed that of Lamin Fatty, a report with The Independent on April 10th, 2006.
In May 2006, a number of journalists and civilians were arrested and detained after being accused by the authorities of being the informants of an online Gambian newspaper based in the United State. Musa Sheriff, a Liberian journalist based in the Gambia, was also among the group of the people arrested and severely tortured by the NIA for being mere subscribers of an online Gambian newspaper in the United States. Mr. President, the journalists and the civilians you’ve arrested were not the informants.
The Banjul Editor of JollofNews online Abdoulie John also tasted Jammeh’s impunity when he was unlawfully arrested and detained in December 2012. State security agent went to the extent of banning Daily News reporter Binta Bah from covering the case of seven death row prisoners on October 15, 2012. The said security agent took his orders from the Office of the President that Daily News and Standard newspaper journalist should not be allowed to enter the court. Mr. President, why do you deny these journalists from entering the court? Is it because you are scared that they were going to inform the masses on the truth instead of what you wanted to hear?
The deputy Editor of The Daily News also got his share of the government’s punishment when he was arrested on July 22nd 2012 at the High Court in Banjul. Lamin Njie’s arrest came after that of Abdoulhamid Adiamoh, the Managing Editor of Today newspaper on June 20th, 2012. His only crime – if there was any – was to write an opinion article on his paper.
Plainclothes officers on January 6th, 2012 picked up Momodou S. Jallow of the Private News while covering a public meetings of a local rice grower’s co-operation in Brikama. This arrest was meant to deny the people who hold the backbone of a country whose economy depends largely on farming. Clearly, Dictator Jammeh’s intention was to deny our desperate and wounded farmers the right to voice out their complaints. Whose interest is our government defending?
The arrest, detention and subsequent court arraignment of The Voice newspaper journalists – Musa Sheriff and Sainey Marenah – in December for reporting the defection of 19 ruling party supporters to the opposition was a mockery to democracy, justice and the rule of law.
Mr. President, I want you to understand the people you trust are the very ones passing information to us in the diaspora. It is not the local media as you are made to believe. Our informants are the NIAs, the Jugulars and those whom you do your naughty works with or the people who do your dirty works under your commands.
Mr. President please don’t be a fool, anytime you are talking about or exercising your dirty jobs, you never inform media about it, why? Because you don’t trust them. Maybe you even passed orders to your boys not to have any contact with the media whenever they are doing your dirty jobs. Mr. President, the people you assigned to do your dirty jobs are not the journalists. So from who do you think we get those information from if the journalists are out of the equation?
Mr. President, I want you to get the following statement into your head:
– Mr. President, your foolish and lazy NIAs and stupid Jungulers are your enemies and not the media.
– Those who open their stinking mouth and tell you lies in other to fill their pockets with your dirty money, are your enemies and not the media.
– Those who open their stinking mouth and tell you lies in order to safe their filthy souls from being arrested, are your enemies and not the media.
– Those who open their stinking mouth and tell you lies in other to gain your trust, are your enemies and not the media.
– Mr. President, if you let the media to do its job freely and independently, you will enjoy the benefit of reaping the best, strong and healthier government. But if you keep on abusing, harassing and mistreating journalists with the aim of destroying them, then you must be fooling yourself. Instead of destroying the media, you will surely end up destroying yourself. In that case, don’t blame anyone but yourself. That is the food for thought I have for you. More hard facts are on the way, Mr. President.