A 10th Gambian journalist arrested since the government’s 15 June crackdown on the press was released Wednesday after two days of confinement in a Banjul cell.
Photojournalist Augustine Kanjia was picked up by state security on Monday outside Banjul’s Kanifing Magistrates Court, where seven other journalists were being arraigned on charges of sedition.
The president of the Gambian Press Union (GPU), Ndey Tapha Sosseh, has been in Mali on business since the wave of arrests began 10 days ago. Speaking just hours after Kanjia’s release on Wednesday, she reported that Kanjia was arrested, but not charged, for trying to take pictures of paramilitary police outside the courthouse on the day of the arraignment.
“Augustine was outside the Kanifing Magistrates Court during the trial of the seven arrested GPU leaders and other members, and he tried to take pictures of the riot police who were there to keep the crowd out of the court premises apparently. And once he took out his camera, he was whisked away into a police van and taken to the police station, where he’s been since Monday,” she disclosed.
The press union chief maintains that Kanjia’s arrest, like the nine others, was absurd and without grounds.
“He was released on bail, but he has not been charged. I haven’t spoken directly to him as of now, so I can’t say what he was being questioned on. But it just shows the ridiculousness that Gambian journalists have to go through in order to get the real story,” she said.
The Gambian Press Union has condemned recent comments by President Yahyah Jammeh about the country’s most prominent reporter and editor, Deyda Hydara of The Point newspaper, who was murdered in 2004. Journalists suspect Mr. Jammeh of being behind the unsolved slaying and continue to demand an apology for what they call his insensitive remarks on the case.
Reporter Sosseh questions the grounds for the media crackdown, which comes shortly after the GPU sought a presidential apology.
“As a union, we find the charges quite bogus because what is seditious in putting the record straight? What is seditious in actually pointing out the fact that something hurts you? If anything, it is just another affront to the face of damage from this reign of terror that we have. Nobody can practice efficiently as a journalist, and we tried to raise those issues,” she said.
Sosseh says she is grateful that her trip to Mali enabled her to issue statements from outside the country on behalf of her arrested colleagues, five of whom are officials and members of the GPU, without fear of the reprisals faced by her fellow scribes. But she says she is willing to stand by her legitimate criticism of the Banjul government and will eventually return home, even if it means having to face up to the consequences.
She said the climate of the current media crackdown, in which President Jammeh has assumed the role of Information Minister, is chilling.
“The laws are harsh. The security clampdown on the media and obviously, the state’s consent is in this. Nobody seems to care. Nobody wants to say anything. And actually, when the state speaks and you speak against the state, you are seen as an enemy of the state,” she said.
In addition to Kanjia, four other arrested journalists, Pa Modou Fall, Pap Saine, Abba Gibba, and Ebrima Sawaneh are employed by The Point. Others imprisoned, Halifa Salah, Sam Sarr, and Abubakar Saidykhan, work for the opposition Foroyaa newspaper.
Emil Touray, Secretary General of the GPU was the first to be released last week on the humanitarian grounds that she is the mother of a young child.
The first seven journalists and GPU executives to be arrested, who were charged with seditious intent and seditious publication, are scheduled to return to court on 7 July.