By Momodou Jarju
Former Foroyaa journalist, Abubacarr Saidykhan, Wednesday detailed his ordeal under the repressive rule of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh that lasted for 22 years.
Born in Brikama Kembujeh on 25 December, 1983, Saidykhan said he attended Nusrat Senior Secondary School where he graduated in 2005 and then did diploma in law at West Africa Insurance Institute in 2012.
He said in 2005, he started with the Foroyaa newspaper as a distributor and later became a reporter at the paper in 2009 until 2011.
Saidykhan said he was advised by Halifa Sallah, the current National Assembly Member for Serrekunda, to join Foroyaa as a freelance journalist but he could not do it at the time because he did not have the capacity to write articles.
“I eventually started writing articles for Foroyaa in 2009,” he said.
Quizzed about the climate then for journalists in the country while he was practising the profession, Saidykhan said it was not good.
“I came into the field when people like Deyda Hydara were already killed and Chief Manneh disappeared. So, I started as a young reporter and the climate in those days was that Yahya Jammeh was not very lenient with professionals like journalists. So even some of the security officials, the way they viewed journalists especially those working with the Foroyaa newspaper was very bad,” he explained.
Saidykhan said Foroyaa was a paper critical of the Government on issues of human rights, freedom of expression etc. and also offered advice to the Government through recommendations and editorials. He noted that he had to be careful in the way he wrote his articles because the climate was not conducive.
Saidykhan gave an instance when the former Inspector General of Police, Essa Badjie told him at a press conference that Foroyaa journalists write articles and refuse to verify them and if they are not careful, some of them would be taken to court and be incarcerated. He said he reported the matter to his editor who told him not to mind the threat but do his work as expected while noting that he felt bad when IGP Badjie told him that.
Saidykhan opined that people failed to understand that not all workers of Foroyaa are members of the People’s Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). He added that it was very minimal for the government to give coverage letters to Foroyaa for their events.
The 2009 Incident
In 2009 Saidykhan was among seven journalists arrested. Recalling the incident, he said it was on 15 June 2009, on Monday around 6 O’clock while at Foroyaa office in Churchill Town and after he had written his article and brewing Attaya (China green tea) with one of his senior editors, Suwaibou Touray, who is now member for Wuli East, when a man came in “completely drunk” asking for Sam Sarr, the managing editor of Foroyaa newspaper. Mr. Sarr was not at the office but in his house behind Foroyaa’s office, he said.
Saidykhan said the guy left without identifying himself, and thereafter two plain officers came in and asked for Mr. Sarr, and then they realised that something was wrong. He explained that the plain clothes officers went to Mr. Sarr’s house and arrested him, saying he was present and the officers were from the NIA, remembering the surname of one of them as Tamba.
“They arrested Sam. While he was being arrested, I was holding my camera, I started shooting photos…because the flash of my camera was on. So, when I snapped and they saw the flash, they just came to me and asked why I took those photos,” he said.
According to Saidykhan, he wanted to document the arrest of his editor, that is why he took the photos. Thus, he said Mr. Tamba grabbed and seized his camera and asked him to get into the vehicle which he did.
He said he and Mr. Sarr were arrested and transported to the then NIA headquarters in Banjul.
He said the reason for his editor’s arrest was as a result of a press release the president of Gambia Press Union (GPU) then (Ndey Tapha Sosseh) wrote in response to ex-president Yahya Jammeh’s comment about the death of Deyda Hydara in an interview he granted GRTS. He said Jammeh said that people asking about the death of Deyda Hydara should “go to his grave and ask him who killed him.”
Deyda Hydara was a veteran journalist and co-proprietor of The Point newspaper who was gunned down by unknown men in 2004.
Narrating further, Saidykhan said Pap Saine, Ebrima Sawaneh, Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Emil Touray, Pa Modou Faal, all journalists, were arrested in connection with that article. The incident was later known as the “arrest of 7 journalists and later 6 journalists at the time”.
He said at the NIA, their details were taken and they were given mattresses where they spent the night. He said the following day Alagie Morr Jobe, an NIA officer at the time asked them to give statements. He said Sam Sarr, Emil Touray and himself did not give statements, but the rest gave statements.
“They did everything for us to give statements but we refused to give statements,” he said.
He also said from Monday, the day they were arrested to Wednesday, they did not have access to lawyers neither were they given chance to talk to their families via phone. “But each of our family members were coming,” he added.
Saidykhan further said at some point, Mr Sam Sarr was taken to a separate room and he saw the former NIA director, Yankuba Badjie there. He said Badjie was not the director at the time. Another NIA officer he said he recognized was Mr. Hydara, fair in complexion.
Saidykhan said they were later taken to the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court on 18th June 2009 and arraigned at the court, charged with sedition and they all entered not guilty plea and were remanded at Mile II thereafter. He said they were not represented by a lawyer at their initial appearance at the court.
Commenting on the situation of the remand wing, he said there was water everywhere and the environment was not good, adding e he did not eat food prepared at the Remand Wing. He said he relied on food brought from outside.
Speaking further, Saidykhan said on 22 June 2009, they were granted bail at the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court. He said the trial lasted for about 3 to 4 months.
He said the case was later transferred to the high court and the charges at the lower court were withdrawn. He said sedition, defamation and conspiracy to commit defamation were some of the charges leveled against the 7 journalists.
He said he was discharged as the fifth accused person while the trial was ongoing because he had no case to answer.
He said the rest were found guilty and were sentenced to fines and imprisonment. He said his trial had impacted on him and his family negatively.