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Gambia Cracks Down on Press Outlets

Gambian police have hacked into the Internet website and email subscriber list of a US-based online newspaper critical of the government. With the data, they summoned contributors and subscribers and jailed three journalists, subsequently releasing two of them, but detaining the third without formally filing charges against him. Pa Nderry M’bai is editor of the online Freedom Newspaper. He tells English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser that his website is up and running, but that the government almost succeeded in shutting it down.

“It was unfortunate that some people wanted to hack this website, and in fact they partly succeeded in trying to release the information of our innocent subscribers, who the Gambian government is claiming are the source of our information. This is erroneous, and there is no thread of truth in the government claims.”

Among the journalists jailed and released are Pa Modou Faal of the state-owned broadcaster GRTS and Musa Sheriff of the independent magazine Gambia News and Report. They were released a week ago without explanation. Malick Mboob, a former journalist with the Daily Observer, is still behind bars, as is Lamin Fatty of the private Banjul newspaper The Independent, who has been held since April 10. On June 6, the Gambia National Intelligence Agency released Lamin Cham, a stringer for the British Broadcasting Corporation, who was linked with the name of another anti-government reporter.

“As I am speaking to you, there are dozens of people languishing in jail,” says M’bai, “and the government doesn’t have any right for holding these people. One reporter who used to work with The Observer, Omar Bah, an editor as well, is also wanted. Even my very self, am wanted. Their very cases are outrageous.”

M’bai suggests that the African Union denounce the Gambia’s press crackdown and consider moving its upcoming African Commission Summit on Human and People’s Rights, which Banjul is slated to host, to another country. “The best thing the AU and the African Commission can do is to ensure that all these forums are not held in the Gambia. In fact, I supported the call by Reporters without Borders for the African Commission to withdraw from Banjul. This goes to show that this government is capable of killing people, that they are intolerant of press freedom. They do not like democracy. They are out to kill most of the press."

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