The Press Union of The Gambia says it is concerned about the continued detention of journalist Malick Jones, a broadcaster with the Gambia Radio and Television Service. Jones was arrested a week ago along with Mam Sait Ceesay, press secretary for President Yahya Jammeh who also doubles as editor of the Daily Observer newspaper. They were charged with communication of code words in violation of Gambia’s Official Secrets Act law.
Madi Ceesay, no relation to the jailed journalist, is president of the Press Union of The Gambia. He told VOA that there has been a development in the case of the detained Gambian journalists. But first he explained the details of what might have led to their arrests.
“What we knew about the case is that Malick Jones told Mam Sait that the director of the press and public relations in the president’s office had been changed and replaced by one Alex Bacosta. And Mam Sait, because he doubles also as an editor with the Daily Observer newspaper, they carried a news piece. And that did not go well with government,” he said.
Although the alleged offense is bailable, the prosecutor had resisted granting the accused bail on the grounds it would tamper with the investigation.
But Ceesay said the government has granted bail to Mam Sait Ceesay, press secretary for President Yahya Jammeh who also doubles as editor of the Daily Observer newspaper, but not to Malick Jones.
“The condition is that a Gambian should come and bail them, and this Gambian must have a titled deed worth 200,000 Dalasi (about $9,132.00). At the time of the ruling, none of the two gentlemen met this requirement. As of 18 of this month, Mam Sait Ceesay, who doubles as a press office of the president’s office, and also editor of the Daily Observer, was able to meet this requirement, and he has since been bailed and he is out of jail. But the broadcaster, who is Malick Jones, still has to meet this requirement. So as a result, Malick Jones is still languishing in jail,” Ceesay said.
Last year, Mam Sait, as editor of the Daily Observer published a list of local Gambian journalists were said to be correspondents for Freedom Newspaper, a U.S.-based Internet newspaper.
Ceesay said the dual role played by Mam Sait has tended to make the job of the Press Union, as an advocate for all journalists, a little difficult.
“Yes, of course. It makes our job a little bit difficult because state journalists tend to keep a distance away from the Gambia Press Union simply because the Gambia Press Union is seen as not in good book with the government. So there is this suspicion between government and the Gambian Press Union. As a result, those who work for the government distance themselves away from us,” Ceesay said.
He said the relationship between the Gambian government and the country’s independent media has been a rocky one.
“It is really very difficult for independent journalists to operate in this country because we work in an environment that is hostile. Our relationship with the government is not as cordial as it should be,” he said.
As a result of such relationship, Ceesay said many independent Gambian journalists have either gone under ground or imposed some sort of self-censorship.
“I think it’s true because over 25 journalists are now operating outside this country because they fled this country fear of arrest and torture because in the past we have had a series of arrests and torture of journalists. Those who stay are a little bit careful in terms of what to write and what to say. So a sort of self-censorship is the order of the day,” he said.
Although Ceesay said he is concerned about his own safety, at the same time he said the job of advocating for all Gambian journalists must continue.
“I’m concerned about my own security, and as a result, I’m just being careful. But I have to do the job,” Ceesay said.