By Moses Emmanuel Mendy
Following Sunday’s 3-years Jotna Movement’s protest, some one hundred and thirty-seven protesters were arrested and fifty others have been hospitalised according to the Government. Four journalists have been detained in relation to protests which turned violent on 26th January 2020 and two Radio Stations were forced to shut down namely, King FM and Home Digital FM. It’s safe to say Press freedom is slowly eroding in The Gambia.
The government accused two radio stations of broadcasting incendiary messages, however, according to Gambia Press Union’s (GPU) Secretary General, Saikou Jammeh, multiple sources including the manager of King FM explained that king FM was playing music that had no bearing on Sunday’s disturbances. He further clarified that although Home Digital FM was broadcasting information about the protest, multiple sources including staff members also confirmed that there was nothing incendiary about the radio’s broadcast.
In this regard Mr Jammeh dubbed the incident as the most aggressive attack on press freedom witnessed since the new government came to power in 2017. In his view the closure of the radio stations were arbitrary and unlawful. The government through its spokesperson issued a press release yesterday which appeared to warn journalists against presenting divergent views, this according to Mr Jammeh, is equally dangerous, unlawful and has no legitimate basis, as such he called on the media to present ‘as diverse opinions as possible on any issue of legitimate public interest’ to which presidential tenure is not an exception to. He reiterated that they will challenge any attempt by the government to pursue further the implementation of its threats and proclamation.
‘The Information and Communication Act (s36) gives power to only Information Minister to suspend or revoke a broadcasting license. The security has no powers to shut down a radio station. Through our communication our consultation with the minister, we have confirmed that no such order came from the office of the Minister, Ebrima Sillah, moreover, the laid-down conditions for doing so have not been met’ he said.
Under the Barrow regime several cases of journalists being assaulted have been reported but it all often results to nothing, Mr Jammeh added that Sunday’s attack serves as a chilling reminder of the twenty years of brutal repression of the media. He called on the government to release all the journalist held in custody.
Mustapha K Darboe, the Vice President of the Gambia Press Union said King FM was not reporting the protest therefore he believes the closure of King FM was ‘pre-meditated’ and urged people to defend press freedom because it is the oxygen to democracy and when it dies democracy dies with it, as a result people will be violated and arbitrary arrests will take concrete shape.
By Tuesday 28th January 2020, all four journalists have been released on bail with all 137 protesters also released on bail.