Lagos — The Committee to Protect Journalists today said it holds authorities in the Gambia responsible for the safety of a journalist who has received death threats following critical coverage of the government.
Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelancer who contributes to several news websites, told CPJ that four unknown people on Tuesday threatened him at his Ebo Town residence in Kanifing Municipality, some seven miles (11 kilometers) from the capital Banjul. Saidykhan said he was near his compound gate with his brother when the men drove up in an unmarked vehicle with tinted windows and threatened to kill him next time they see him. One of the men called him "a very stubborn journalist" before they drove off.
"I reported to the police who gave me a reference number. But I am not sleeping at my house anymore," Saidykhan said. Yankuba Sonko, the Gambia's inspector general of police, declined to comment on the threats when CPJ reached him by phone.
Local journalists said the threats could be linked to coverage of opposition to President Yahya Jammeh's decision to execute death row inmates, about which Saidykhan has written a series of articles. They told CPJ the threats should not be taken lightly, referring to the case of eminent editor Deyda Hydara, who was killed in December 2004 after reporting death threats. No one has ever been prosecuted for his murder.
"The Gambian government must guarantee the safety of Abubacarr Saidykhan," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. "The impunity afforded to the killers of Deyda Hydara has emboldened the enemies of the press in the Gambia."
Tuesday's threat came three weeks after Saidykhan and Baboucarr Ceesay, a regular contributor to Africa Review and the author of a story about opposition to the executions, received an anonymous death threat via email on October 25 that they forwarded to CPJ. The sender accused both men of wanting to "destroy the image of the APRC Government [ruling political party] and our affectionate President Yahya Jammeh." It is not clear whether that threat was in relation to their journalism or to an attempt by Saidykhan and Ceesay in September to organize a demonstration against the executions.
In September, authorities expelled a BBC correspondent who had come to the Gambia to report on the executions. The same month, they shut down two newspapers who had reported on the controversy. CPJ research shows that in the Gambia, journalists critical of the government are frequently targets of threats or arrests from state security agents, ruling party supporters, and the president himself, who in a July 22, 2009, televised broadcast threatened to "severely deal" with them. Journalists and media houses have been attacked with impunity, according to CPJ research and news reports.