Gambia: Journalist Recollects Hostile Conduct Meted on Former 'Independent Newspaper'

A former journalist of the defunct 'Independent' Newspaper Buya Jammeh, has disclosed the treatment meted out on the Newspaper he worked for during the reign of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.

Testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) via Skye, Buya Jammeh said he was born in Bakalarr in North Bank Region on April 5th 1982; that he currently resides in New York City in the United States of America. Jammeh said after graduating from the Muslim Senior Secondary School in Banjul, he joined the media with the defunct 'Independent' Newspaper on September 4th 2001; that the nature of his work was not easy because he had no prior journalism training and knowledge. He said the hostile situation then did not accord him the chance to maintain the profession.

Buya said there was a lot of injustice persisting under former president Jammeh's regime which motivated him to work with an independent institution in order to convey the truth of the hostile situation the regime was perpetuating through news reporting; that when he joined the journalism field, hardly does it go beyond two weeks without a journalist getting arrested and or detained.

"Barely two years when I got into journalism, I remembered by then I was working part time as a Disc Jokey commonly referred to as 'DJ' with Radio 1 FM, I used to work twice in the week. So one evening, on a Thursday night around 12:30pm, I was going to work in August 2003 when I was stopped by paramilitary officers who were stationed at the Chinese Embassy, a block away from the then 'Independent' Newspaper," he said; that his bag was seized from him when he resisted to hand it over to the officers upon their request. He said he told the officers that he was a journalist and a DJ as well; that the officers searched his bag and did not find anything suspicious. He said he asked why he was searched, but was slapped for asking the question and was further beaten until his face got swollen in the process. He said he was allowed go to work after the beatings and managed to go to the radio and report to his paper in the morning. He recalled that the officers were three in number.

Jammeh said the manhandling lasted for about a few minutes and that they had to stop when he informed them that he would report them to his Newspaper editor to shame them.

Quizzed by Counsel Mariama Singhateh whether he felt safe after that incident to continue working with the 'Independent' newspaper, Jammeh said not very safe, but that he had the courage to continue because his superior assured him of supporting him and to be there for him, no matter what happened. "I had the courage to continue as a young man because this is what I love to do," he said.

The arson attack on the 'Independent'Newspaper:

Buya said four Police officers came to the Newspaper in October 2003 and met one Madi Ceesay, an officer of Uncle Sam Security. He said they started chatting and suddenly one of the Police officers brought forth a bottle filled with an inflammable liquid and set fire on the printing machines, because they wanted to stop a publication that was to come out the following day.

"They were unable to get access to the office but they succeeded in burning part of an electric metal box that was outside, just to handicap the office so that they would stop us from publication," he explained. He said the security guard was rushed to the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital (RVTH) now the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH), where he was hospitalized for about three days. He said the matter was reported to the Police, but nothing came out of it.

Buya said Madi told them that the officers told him that they were Police officers and that he was beaten by the assailants. He added the event occurred around midnight. He said the attack came barely a month after their Editor-in-Chief Abdoulie Sey, was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where he spent more than three days. He said reports at the time indicated that Sey was abducted.

"I do not know what followed after the arrest and detention of Abdoulie Sey, but I believe his arrest has to do with the Editorial policies of the 'Independent' Newspaper," he explained. This, he said, was because the paper insisted on reporting independently.

"In 2004, they had another arson attack on the 'Independent' press at the Kanifing Industrial Estate where six men came to the printing press and randomly started shooting. One of them had a five liter gallon filled with an inflammable liquid that they poured on the printing press and set the machine on fire. This was also aimed at stopping a publication that was supposed to come out the following day," he said.

In that incident, he said one of the assailants suffered burns and his colleague managed to lift him up and threw him into the pick-up and drove away. Jammeh said he got this information from Namori Trawally, who used to be the manager of the 'Independent' Printing Press.

Narrating further, he said one of the assailants left his pistol which was handed over to the Police. Buya said the then Inspector General of Police Landing Badgie, came to the scene but justice was not done thereafter; that Namori Trawally with few others were there when the arson attack occurred at a time when they were printing for the following day's publication. He said when the assailants came in, Trawally and his co-workers hid themselves to avoid being shot at. Trawally and his co-workers did not suffer any injuries, he added.

Buya said the burnt publication for the following day carried a report of a Commission of inquiry which revealed some human rights violations of the former Jammeh regime; adding this publication never came out and justice was also never served on the case.

He said this hostile experience made him to lose courage in the profession, and that his family asked him to quit.

"I started asking them questions whether they would be happy to sit until the end of the month and I do not give them allowance as it is the tradition back home," he said. He added that his parents responded in the negative, and so he continued until 2006, after the foiled coup of Ndure Cham when staff of the paper were arrested including himself; that the paper never returned to the Newsstands after this incident.

Buya said they were arrested because the paper published a story revealing the involvement of former Interior Minister Samaba Bah, in the alleged foiled coup of Ndure Cham.

Buya said he fled the country in 2009 and now resides in US.

Former president Jammeh who once told the BBC that he will rule the Gambia for a billion years if 'Allah' wills, now finds himself in exile in Equatorial Guinea after losing the 2016 presidential elections to the coalition-led candidate in the person of Adama Barrow.

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