The smallest country on the African mainland seems to have the largest problems on the continent, especially for journalists. Not only is Republic of The Gambia near the bottom of the 2006 Press Freedom Index (ranking 149 out of 168), but the nation has some of the toughest restrictions anywhere in the world when it comes to the media.
The 2007 Annual Report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) underscores some of the dangers members of the media are experiencing in Gambia: “Ten journalists arrested, one missing, many others in exile, countless unsolved murders for which supporters of the president are suspected of responsibility or complicity, the memory of a murdered journalist besmirched by the government and a permanent climate of fear: this is the terrible track record of President Yahya Jammeh’s as far as press freedom is concerned.”
During the past three years, attacks and charges against the media have increased substantially. Last year there were at least 13 separate incidents, compared with just two in 2003.
The primary problem is the president who “boasts of his contempt for journalists and human rights activists,” according to RSF.
“Everyone should get lost,” President Jammeh once told a journalist. “If I have good reasons to close a newspaper’s offices, I will do it.”
A law passed in 2004 gave broad powers to a special commission allowing the government to imprison journalists and regulate the media by issuing licenses.
Media in the headlines
* “Journalist missing since July being held in provincial police station, newspaper discovers”: Story involving the arrest and the secret detention of a journalist with the Daily Observer, a privately owned paper. Ebrima Manneh has been missing since July 7.
*“Jammeh’s inauguration marred by impunity and contempt for press since journalist’s murder two years ago”: Commentary by Reporters Without Borders about continued oppression by the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who was being inaugurated in mid-December for another five-year term.
*“Journalist freed after being held illegally for 139 days by intelligence agents”: Article on a journalist who was incarcerated for more than four months on suspicion of writing stories critical of Gambia for a U.S.-based Web site.
*“Public TV reporter freed after a week in secret police custody, then fired”: Report about a reporter who was fired by the state-owned Gambia Radio Television Services. After being held by the National Intelligence Agency in Banjul, he was released and immediately fired from his job.
Issues in the headlines
*HIV second batch treatment starts: “The second batch of President Dr. Yahya Jammeh’s herbal treatment for twenty-seven patients (17 females and 10 males) with HIV/AIDS infection will start today at the new Serrekunda Hospital.”
*“In American Embassy fuel theft case, 6 pleaded not guilty:” “Six accused persons . . . plead not guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit felony and stealing 700 litres of fuel at the American Embassy warehouse.”
*“Gambia Celebrates 42nd Year of Nationhood”: “The Gambia on Sunday, 18th February 2007 celebrated its 42nd year of independence. This year’s celebration has been decentralised, with Mayors and Governors stepping in for the president in their various administrative areas.”
*“There Cannot Be Free Electricity in This Country:” “The Gambian leader, President Yahya Jammeh, last Friday declared that there could not be free electricity in The Gambia, explaining that this is due to the fact that free electricity is found nowhere in the world and that the country does not extract fuel.”