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Gambia Newspaper to Petition President Jammeh Over Journalist Arrests

A Gambian newspaper will Wednesday petition President Yahya Jammeh for the release of its detained managing editor.

Sam Sarr of the Foroyaa newspaper and five others were arrested Monday after publishing a statement by the Gambia Press Union. The statement criticized President Jammeh's comments about an investigation into the unsolved December 2004 murder of journalist Deyda Hydara.

In an interview with VOA, Halifa Salah, a Foroyaa editorial board member, said his newspaper will not abdicate its responsibility to give a dissenting voice to ordinary Gambians.

"What we have been trying to do with this paper is to provide an alternative voice to the government media, which is under the domination of the government, as well as the party in government," Salah said.

He said authorities are yet to give reasons for the detention of Sarr and the other journalists.

"We anticipated that they will respect the constitution which states that under section 19, three hours after detention, the person detained should be told exactly why he is detained, and should be given access to a legal practitioner to pursue the matter. This hasn't been done," he said.

Salah said the detained editor upholds the journalistic standard of fair coverage.

"What is important is at the end of the day what you have published is in line with truth, good faith at the public interest. I am saying that that is the principle of Mr. Sam Sarr, the managing editor of the Foroyaa newspaper," Salah said.

He said freedom of speech should be encouraged in order to strengthen Gambia's democracy.

"What is important for us to realize is that freedom of expression is the foundation of a democratic society, and it should not be suppressed in anyway," he said.

Salah urged the government to respect the freedom of the press.

"The issue of freedom of expression provides us with the basis where you give divergent view and therefore the government can fight its case through words. This is merely reporting divergent news. This requires tolerance, immense tolerance from government," Salah said.

Meanwhile, some journalists are expressing fear that their detained colleagues could face charges for sedition or inciting hatred against lawful authority.

Human rights groups and media watchdogs have often accused state security agents of mistreating journalists, a charge Banjul sharply denies.