Committee to Protect Journalists calls for release of Gambian journalists

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling for the release of seven Gambian journalists arrested for reacting to President Yahya Jammeh's dismissal of an investigation involving the 2004 murder of journalist Deyda Hydara.

The seven detainees include three members of the Gambian Press Union, two reporters from The Point newspaper and two journalists from Foroyaa newspaper. They were detained on Monday after reprinting a press release that criticized President Jammeh for dismissing an investigation into the unsolved murder of journalist Deyda Hydara.

Tom Rhodes is the Africa Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. He expressed concern that the journalists have still not been released.

Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

"Neither publication editor should be detained for republishing a press release made by the Gambian Press Union," he said. "The whole point of an independent press is to show all viewpoints and that is a certainly viable one. We call on the NIA [National Intelligence Agency] officials to release them immediately."

Veteran Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point newspaper, was gunned down in 2004. There has been no investigation into the killing but human rights organizations have voiced suspicions that the government was involved.

On June 8, President Jammeh said in a television interview that he had "no stake" in Hydara's death. He hinted that the journalist had a complicated love life that might have resulted in his murder.

Rhodes said there are still many unanswered questions on the case.

"From what we can determine and gather from the Gambian Press Union, there's been absolutely no government investigation into the matter. The one positive thing we can vest from this rather dire situation is that at least the government is reacting to public pressure to respond to these allegations," said Rhodes.

Gambia has long been criticized for its human rights record and lack of press freedom. In 2006 veteran journalist Ebrima Manneh went missing. Despite repeated pressure from international rights groups, the Gambian government has never released any information about his whereabouts.

Rhodes says the latest arrests could trigger a downward spiral.

"Without journalists on the ground such as those at Foroyaa it's really going to affect what people know of what's going on in the Gambia in the wider picture of human rights," said Rhodes.

The Foroyaa newspaper is petitioning President Jammeh for the release of the detained journalists, including its managing editor Sam Sarr.