On Sept. 24, Captain Yahya Yammeh, leader of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction Party, transformed himself from military strongman to president in flawed and unfair elections which excluded The Gambia's main opposition politicians. Yammeh's monopoly of the state broadcast media denied his few challengers access to radio and television to air their platforms. And the independent press suffered routine harassment for publishing opposing or critical views during the period leading up to the election.

In February, Yammeh's Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) issued Decrees 70 and 71, which modify the 1944 Newspaper Act and require all independent newspapers to pay an increased registration bond of 100,000 dalasis (US$10,000) and provide property as collateral. State-owned publications are not subject to these decrees, whose clear intent is to cripple the independent press financially and eliminate the competition. CPJ protested the imposition of the decrees to the Gambian government and urged that they be revoked.

Journalists who report on government corruption, or criticize the government or its officials, are frequently charged with violation of Article 212 of The Gambia's draft constitution, which places restrictions on the media for "reasons of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputation, rights and freedoms of others." In March, for the first time in the history of The Gambia's press, four independent publishers were charged with violating Section 5 of the Newspaper Act for failing to submit their newspapers' annual registration documents after the AFPRC deemed failure to register a criminal offense.

Since the elections, the government's harassment of the private press has taken many forms: bans on state-run printing presses' production of independent newspapers; unprecedented charges against editors and publishers for violations of the Newspaper Act; routine detention of journalists who refuse to name their sources, causing others to flee the country rather than divulge this information; and threats of deportation against immigrant employees of the private press.

February 22
Boubacar Sankanu, Free-lancer, IMPRISONED, HARASSED

Sankanu, a free-lancer for the biweekly newspaper The Point, Voice of America (VOA), Radio Deutsche Welle, and the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), was detained incommunicado for one week and interrogated about his reports for VOA. He was released on bail, without charge, and directed to report daily to the police for one week. Sankanu was also "strongly encouraged" by state security agents to cease filing radio reports for broadcast on international networks.

February 26
All independent newspapers, LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED

The Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) introduced Decree 71, which required all independent newspapers to pay a registration bond of 100, 000 dalasis (US$10, 000) and provide property as collateral, or face closure. Decree 71 extended Decree 70 (passed by the AFPRC on Feb. 14), which required only new independent newspapers to pay 100, 000 dalasis to register. State-owned publications are not subject to either decree. All seven Gambian independent newspapers managed to meet the requirements of Decree 71 but were prohibited from publishing for the two weeks during which their affidavits were being reviewed. CPJ protested the imposition of the decrees to the Gambian government and urged that they be revoked.

The independent press, CENSORED

The Gambian Ministry of Justice ordered the state-run printing press to stop printing independent newspapers. Five of the six newspapers, The Point, New Citizen, The Gambian, Gambia News and Monthly Report and Toiler were forced to print their editions in Senegal or pay higher prices to print on the private presses of other independent newspapers. The Point acquired its own printing press, but the New Citizen, The Gambian, Gambian News and Monthly Report and Toiler have gone out of business. CPJ protested the measure to the Gambian government, and demanded that it be lifted immediately.

March 8
Ebrima Ceesay, The Daily Observer, LEGAL ACTION
Theophilus George, The Daily Observer, LEGAL ACTION
Deyda Hydara, The Point, LEGAL ACTION
Pap Seine, The Point, LEGAL ACTION
Sam Sarr, Foroyaa, LEGAL ACTION
Halifah Sallah, Foroyaa, LEGAL ACTION
Sidia Jatta, Foroyaa, LEGAL ACTION
Boubacarr Gaye, New Citizen, LEGAL ACTION

The editors and publishers of four independent newspapers were summoned to appear before the Banjul Magistrate Court to answer charges of violating Section 5 of the 1944 Newspaper Act by failing to submit their papers' annual registration documents. Into the first years of Yahya Jammeh's rule, no newspaper was charged for violating this provision in the act. Newspapers have been allowed to simply provide publishing information on their back pages. Now, Jammeh's armed forces provisional ruling council has made failure to register a criminal offense, and is prosecuting those who do not comply. Those summoned on March 8 were: Ebrima Ceesay, editor of the Daily Observer, and Theophilus George, the paper's publisher; Sam Sarr, Halifa Sallah and Sidia Jatta, editors of Foroyaa; Boubacarr Gaye, editor and publisher of the New Citizen; and Deyda Hydara and Pap Saine, editors of The Point. The eight publishers and editors pleaded not guilty and were released on bond of 1, 000 dalasis (US$100) each. The case is pending.

June 13
Ansumana Badjie, The Point, THREATENED, HARASSED

Badjie, a senior reporter for the independent newspaper The Point, was arrested on June 13 by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and detained for an hour in the police station of the rural town of Soma. Badjie was in Soma to cover a June 3-15 tour by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) of its rural infrastructure projects. The NIA accused him of referring to the tour in print as a "political tour" and of writing other unspecified "negative reports." The NIA agents seized his documents and manuscripts before releasing him, but said they were "not finished" with him yet. When Badjie returned to The Point's head office in Fajara at the end of the tour, he reported the arrest in the newspaper's June 17 issue. On June 18, The Point's bureau in the capital of Banjul informed him that two officers from the "serious crimes unit" had been looking for him there. Badjie has since gone into hiding.

June 28
Boubacar Sankanu, Free-lancer, HARASSED

Sankanu, the Banjul stringer for the Voice of America, was stopped by immigration officials at a checkpoint and prohibited from leaving The Gambia. Sankanu was on his way to Senegal to cover stories there. Police claimed that he has been under surveillance since he was released from detention Feb. 29, and must obtain police clearance to cross borders.

July 22
Boubacar Sankanu, Free-lancer, THREATENED, HARASSED

Sankanu, a stringer for the Voice of America, was interviewing spectators at a Banjul celebration when three intelligence officers detained him and drove him from the event to a distant road. They confiscated his script for a VOA story that quoted sources as calling for interim elections, and demanded he identify his sources or "pay the consequences." He was released the same day.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.