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Gambian Authorities Charge Seven Journalists with Sedition


Seven Gambian Press Union (GPU) executives and newspaper journalists arrested earlier this week were charged late Thursday. The charges included conspiracy to publish with seditious intention.

The journalists, who pleaded not guilty, were denied bail and reportedly sent to prison.

Their arrests came after the GPU issued a statement criticizing President Yahya Jammeh for making insensitive comments about the unresolved 2004 assassination of journalist Deyda Hydara.

All attempts to get a reaction from the Gambian government failed as VOA was told that President Jammeh had also assumed the post of minister of information.

Ndey Tapha Sosseh, president of the Gambia Press Union, said from the Malian capital, Bamako that Gambian authorities also arrested Halifa Sallah, a board member of the Foroyaa newspaper.

"What I can confirm is that Thursday afternoon, 4 p.m. GMT, seven Gambian journalists were taken to the state prison, Mile Two Central Prison after being charged with seditious publications," she said.

Sosseh said the Gambian National Intelligence Agency lured Sallah to their offices to get him arrested.

"There have however been two other arrests. An assistant editor of the Point newspaper was arrested and Halifa Sallah was also arrested. Halifa Sallah is the board member of the Foroyaa newspaper," Sosseh said.

She said one of those granted a US$7,000 bail was Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, a nursing mother and also deputy editor of the Point newspaper.

But Sosseh said there was no way Jabbi-Dibba could meet the conditions of her bail.

"It is high, but as media practitioners we're used to having bail conditions that high. Sometimes they go to more than 10,000 US dollars for a Gambian journalist. And we are talking about people who earn less than $200.00 a month," Sosseh said.

The journalists' arrests came after the GPU issued a statement last week criticizing President Yahya Jammeh for making what the GPU called insensitive comments about the unresolved 2004 assassination of journalist Deyda Hydara.

Sosseh said the Gambian government went too far by arresting so many journalists.

"Of course they have gone too far. Why would they even arrest one person for responding to that? As a head of state, what he (Jammeh) should be concerned about is the investigation into the death of Deyda Hydara and how that has tarnished the image of the Gambia," Sosseh said.

She said the Gambia Press Union is calling on the Gambian government to either launch a seriously investigate into the death of Hydara or turn over to independent investigators.

VOA made several attempts over a two-day period to get the Gambian government to respond to the press union claims but to no avail.

Sosseh said President Jammeh has been serving as minister of information since almost the beginning of this year.

"We haven't had a secretary of state for communications or minister of communication since February of this year. And since then it has been under the president's office," Sosseh said.

She said most media institutions and human rights groups have all condemned the Gambian government's latest attacks on the media

"Not only that, they are helping us in our appeal to get the international community and ECOWAS (Economic Community for West African States) and the African Union to have a look at what is happening in the Gambia," she said.

Many journalists who have served on the executive board of the Gambia Press Union have either fled Gambia or made to flee.

Sosseh is currently in Mali on a capacity building initiative with the West African Journalists Association.

She said she will return to the Gambia. But for now Sosseh said the Gambia Press Union needs her outside the country to inform the international community about the plight of Gambian journalists.


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