By Abdoulie John
The Editor-in-chief of The Standard newspaper, Lamin Cham, said Monday that journalists were the leading targets of Yahya Jammeh’s two-decade long dictatorship.
In his testimony before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), Mr. Cham said Yahya Jammeh never missed the opportunity to lambast journalist.
Cham gave a disturbing account of the hostile environment media practitioners were confronted with during the Jammeh regime, showing how dissenting voices were gradually stiffled in the name of entrenching tyranny – spanning from the Junta era to the Second Republic.
The TRRC started today its Sixth Session, which is scheduled to end on Thursday July 25 , 2019. The Session will have a main focus on the suppression of press freedom and subsequent violations of human rights.
Cham, who is a leading figure in Gambian media, stated that Jammeh branded journalists as the “illegitimate sons of Africa” during a political rally held in Bakau. He then revealed the continued deterioration of the relationship between the regime and journalists, citing the controversial decision taken by the former President to prevent the independent media from covering State House press briefings.
“He only called foreign journalists who would come to do a PR job and the independent media was exempted from his press conferences,” he said.
He further narrated the expulsion, manu militari [force of arms], of the founder and publisher of the Daily Observer, Kenneth Best in November 1994 as things started falling apart for journalists.
“He (Jammeh) made no secret of his hatred for journalists,” Cham remarked. “Freedom of expression will stop tyranny from happening.”
Cham went on to say that the turning point was the murder of Deyda Hydara in December 2004. However, far from plunging journalists into a desperate situation, Mr. Cham noted that journalists were galvanized by the sad turn of events and stood firm on their ground.
In what many observers have described as one of the important moments of his testimony, the Standard’s Editor explained how the news site Freedomnewspaper.com changed the game in the media in becoming a platform for alternative news.
A situation that irritated the regime and reportedly prompted its agents to launch a massive cyber attack that led to the hacking of Pa Nderry Mbai’s email account in 2006. His mailing list was uncovered by dictatorship’s agents and led to the arrests of many people.
“When they saw the email addresses, they went for everybody,” he disclosed. “I think they were looking for people who might be reporters or informers.”
Arrested on the heels of the hacking, Cham said he kept cracking his brain trying to figure out how he was connected with the founder of the Gambia’s premier online newspaper.
“I knew I have never corresponded with the editor,” Mr. Cham said after he was subsequently hinted that his arrest had to do with Freedom Newspaper.
He said he was later taken to the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA). At the time Harry Sambou was the head of the country’s spy agency.
As the security was on fishing expedition, Cham was asked to open his email account, allowing them to go through his internet activity and recover deleted emails.
Cham narrated his ordeal at he NIA where he was subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment.
A gang of eight men went to the extra mile to torture him extensively as they kept asking him questions about journalist Omar Bah and Freedom Newspaper’s editor.
Cham made it clear that the eight men beating him were acting at the direction of Tumbul Tamba and Musa Jammeh.
“Most part of my body was injured,’ Cham said as he ended the first torture session.