Abuja — Gambian authorities should immediately release a journalist and the head of the state-owned broadcaster who have been held without charge or access to their families or lawyers for a week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The arrests came in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled to take place on December 1.
Officers from Gambia's National Intelligence Agency (NIA) detained Momodou Sabally, director-general of the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), and Bakary Fatty, a GRTS agriculture reporter, on November 8, and have kept them without access to their families or lawyers, according to media reports. Gambian journalists told CPJ that no charges have been filed against the two.
"If Gambia's intelligence service has compelling evidence that the head of the state broadcaster, Momodou Sabally, and agricultural reporter Bakary Fatty are guilty of any crime save journalism, let them produce it immediately or free them without delay," CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said from New York. "Credible elections depend on free media and journalists' ability to cover the process without fear of reprisal."
Two Gambian journalists in exile and a third still in Gambia, speaking to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told CPJ that authorities have given no reason for Sabally and Fatty's detention, and that the two have not seen a judge. The Gambian Constitution requires that anyone arrested or detained be brought before a court within 72 hours.
Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang told CPJ that he did not know the reason for the arrests, and suggested that CPJ contact the inspector general of police. Calls to the publicly listed phone number for that office did not connect.
Local activists told the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch that they believe the arrests could be connected to the state broadcaster's airing of footage showing an opposition candidate's nomination ahead of presidential elections scheduled to take place on December 1. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's wife held an agricultural event at the same time, according to media reports.
Gambian authorities detained at least two other journalists in the past week, according to media reports. On November 10, NIA agents detained Yunus Salieu, a journalist with the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, and Alhagie Manka, an independent photojournalist, for using their phones to film supporters of President Jammeh and his ruling party on the same day Jammeh submitted his re-election nomination, media reports said.
Salieu was released on November 11, according to media reports. Manka was released on November 16, according to media reports.