The Gambia Press Union, GPU, hereby condemns in the strongest terms, the attack on Saturday on the GRTS News Crew, during funeral proceedings of the late Asombi Bojang, mother of exiled ex-president, Yaya Jammeh.
Asombi Bojang passed away last week in Equatorial Guinea, where she followed her son into exile in January 2017. Her body was brought back on Saturday evening for burial.
Journalists Louis Mendy and Modou Ceesay, who were assigned to provide news coverage for the public broadcaster, came under a string of intense verbal assaults, allegedly by former ruling APRC security and supporters. Ceesay was violently attacked, forcing the crew to run for their lives.
Louis Mendy explained: "The hostility began at the airport. Upon our arrival, some personnel, clad in black-and-white uniform with 'APRC Security' badge, prevented us from getting near the arriving aircraft to take footage. They told us they were acting on directives from their boss, that no one should film the coffin of the ex-president's late mother."
Mendy explained that he had at that point informed the leadership of the party, including Musa Amul Nyassi the spokesman, and Yankuba Colley, the national mobiliser; that both failed to intervene.
He added: "When we wanted to place ourselves in the convoy, the same security personnel stopped us."
Mendy at this point informed his superiors, including the editor-in-chief Abdoulie Sey and Director General, Abdou Touray. Following a telephone conversation between his superiors and the APRC spokesman, the crew was allowed to tag along.
He explained further: "We followed the convoy and upon arrival at the Bujinga village, I asked my cameraman to take aeriel shots of the crowd while I was busy arranging interviews. Moments later, I saw my cameraman, running towards me empty-handed. An angry mob was chasing him. The driver, fortunately, was near-by and we drove off before they could reach us."
Modou Ceesay, the cameraman, also explained: "I climbed on top of a van to take ariel shots. When I came down, a group of men were waiting. One of them was holding a scarf labelled 'APRC Security'. He asked why I took footage and I explained to him that I am from GRTS and his party's leadership were aware of our presence.
"He ordered me to lead him to those leaders. More people joined as we moved. One of them slapped me in the face. Then all of them began hitting and kicking me like a thief in the street. They seized my camera and I ran away."
Ceesay has already undergone medical check-up. He sustained no external injury, though he is feeling internal pain.
Journalists Mendy and Ceesay have lodged a complaint, first at the Kanifing Police Station and later, at the Abuko Police Station.
Abdoulie Sey, editor-in-chief of GRTS, said: "This was an unfortunate incident that should never have happened. The GRTS team was on national duty and should have been welcomed rather than assaulted. We call on the APRC leadership and Police, to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice."
Saikou Jammeh, the Secretary General of the GPU, said: "The leadership of the Union has engaged the Public Relations Office of the Gambia Police Force, to verify the details and know the status of investigations, if any.
"We have been informed by the Police Spokesman Superintendent David Kujabi, that so far, no arrest has been made. This is a grave concern to the GPU, and the leadership has expressed the need to meet with the Inspector General of Police this week. We have also told the police that the GPU expects nothing short of full investigation into the matter, and to bring the perpetrators to book.
Mr Jammeh added: "We have had engagements with the APRC leadership and they, besides expressing regret over the incident, denied that their security officials or supporters were behind the attack. Our position, which we have made known to them, is that the APRC cannot be absolved and should take responsibility until they prove otherwise. We have also asked, and have been guaranteed that the party will cooperate with the police in investigating the matter."
The GPU notes that the Police and party supporters have posed the greatest threat to press freedom in the post-Jammeh Gambia. Party supporters of APRC, UDP, NRP and GMC, have attacked journalists in recent past. The police on their part have failed to provide protection to journalists in hostile situations, nor have they investigated attacks on journalists, including the Police.
Bai Emil Touray, the President of the GPU, said: "Impunity is rearing its ugly head and it is becoming a culture even when past violations are not yet adequately addressed. I am once again, calling on the President Adama Barrow and his Government, to provide safe environment for journalists to operate. I also call on all party leaders to educate and sensitise their supporters to understand, that journalists are not their enemies."