By Yankuba Jallow
Saikou Jammeh, the Secretary-General of the Gambia Press Union on Tuesday, 9th March, concluded his testimony on gross human rights violations meted out on the media by the Government of Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh.
He testified on arson on media houses, closure of media houses, arbitrary arrests, harassment and repressive laws during 22 – year rule of AFPRC/APRC.
Jammeh adduced that the first media house that was subjected to arson attack was Radio 1 FM in 2001, adding that it was the first private radio station in The Gambia. He said the late George Christenson, the proprietor of the said station sustained burns and the radio’s equipment was damaged. He said sometime later, the radio station began operation but couldn’t recover from the arson attack and shut down afterwards.
In 2004, Jammeh said the Independent Newspaper was set ablaze while some of the staff working there were locked in the building. He added that some sustained burns from the arson attack while others escaped. He said a gun was recovered and handed to the police but the matter has never been investigated though GPU has always been calling for an investigation.
He said the house of Ebrima Sillah, the current Minister of Information and Communication, was set on fire while he was sleeping with his family but fortunately for him, he escaped and went into exile.
On the closure of media houses in the 22 – year reign of the AFPRC and APRC, he said 15 media houses were closed down without due observance to due procedure. in 1998.
He put forward that the closure of the media houses were carried out by agents of the NIA who would convey information that the order was from the ‘top’. He detailed that the Independent was closed twice, Sud FM once, as well as Citizen FM and the New Citizen Newspaper; The Standard, Teranga FM was closed four times, Paradise FM, Hill Top, and Afri Radio were also closed.
Saikou Jammeh also testified on the deportation of foreign journalists by the former Government. He also testified that about 140 arrests and detention were meted out on journalists by the government of Yahya Jammeh.
Also, he detailed how the former regime, used or rather, abused laws to prosecute journalists. He said the bad laws include the Telegraph Stations Act, Newspaper (Amendment) Act, Information and Communication Act, Criminal Defamation, False News, Sedition among other ‘despotic laws’. He indicated that the government of ex-President Jawara did not amend the repressive media laws although he used it a little on media practitioners while ex-President Jammeh used those laws and made some amendments on the Criminal Code.
In his concluding remarks, Saikou Jammeh called on Gambians not to see journalists as enemies of national development, instead they should view them as their representatives.