By Momodou Jarju
Ex-Independent newspaper journalist, Sulayman Makalo, has testified before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) last Thursday revealing the unfriendly treatment meted out to their newspaper under the reign of former President Yahya Jammeh.
Makalo said The Independent newspaper started operation with a view to advancing the course of the country and not wagging war against any person or institution.
“Their editorial policy was to report the truth without fear or favor, affection or ill will within the context of our collective national aspiration,” he said.
According to him, the then government of ex-President Yahya Jammeh did not share the same aforementioned declaration which resulted to lot of harassment against the paper.
The former Muslim senior secondary school student said the paper barely hit the newsstand when they suffered the first arrest of their reporter, Lamin N.B. Daffeh who went to the Bundung Police Station to inquire into the arrest of differently abled persons.
Makalo said Daffeh’s arrest led to a series of arrest of reporters of The Independent.
He said on July 30, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) raided the office of their paper and arrested four people. He said this occurred amid an order from the Department of Justice asking the paper to seize operation because it has not registered its name with the Commissioner for Income Tax.
He suggested that the paper’s management went to the income tax office to tender payment, but it was rejected. As part of the raid, he said a day or two later, Baba Galleh Jallow and Alagie Yoro Jallow were arrested and released a day later; they were told to resume operation after regularizing their registration status.
Makalo said this was sorted out three weeks later and the paper waited the hiatus to end before it continued operation.
Further testifying, Makalo said the paper’s court reporter Omar Bah was assigned to cover a proceeding at the Court Martial of Lt. Landing Sanneh at the Yundum Barracks on Thursday 15 July 2001 where he was brutally assaulted by a group of soldiers led by one Lance Corporal Fulo Jallow.
“After he (Omar Bah) was attacked, he was detained for several hours. I don’t know what type of torture was meted out to him but he did report back to us that he was tortured,” he explained.
In 2002, he said the newspaper was a little bit peaceful with the Government. However, Makalo said Pa Ousman Darboe and Alagie Yoro Jallow were arrested on August 3, 2002, in connection with a story published about the then vice president, Isatou Njie Saidy, remarrying to one Alpha Khan.
Asked by lead council Essa Faal, whether the publication was true, Makalo responded in the negative.
“As far as I know, no. I cannot definitely verify,” he said.
He said Alagie Yoro Jallow was later released after the arrest but Pa Ousman Darboe was detained for about 3 days. They were not prosecuted, he said, despite the information contained in the paper was false.
In 2003, he said the managing editor of the newspaper; Alagie Yoro Jallow was picked up by the NIA and questioned about a football march between Gambia and Senegal which resulted to a clash.
He said Yoro Jallow was arrested for reporting that a Gambian fan was killed after the football march between Gambia and Senegal. The killing allegedly occurred in Karang at the border , Makalo said.
Asked again whether the report was factual, Makalo responded in the negative.
“People were injured but no fan was killed,” he said. He said the arrest of his managing editor was lawful.
Speaking further, Makalo said on Sunday June 22nd, 2003, a group of about 10 men in uniform visited their paper and threatened their staff. He said it was in connection with a story involving one Lt. Yankuba Badjie, Kanilia Camp Commander, who allegedly stole proceeds from ex-President Jammeh’s farm.
He said Lt. Badjie was arrested and The Independent newspaper published the story which was why the unidentified uniform men visited the paper at an “ungodly” hour, predawn.
He said the director of operations at the NIA at the time, Mr. Salmina Drammeh, threatened Yoro Jallaw that he would be arrested and imprisoned if he makes publications that they don’t like. He said the threat was never carried out.
Makalo also revealed several other assaults, arrests and arson attacks meted out to the newspaper which eventually led to the closure of the paper in March 2006. Previous witnesses who worked with the newspaper, such as Madi Ceesay, Musa Saidykhan, Demba Alieu Jawo, etc. made similar narrations which were published by this medium.
Makalo, who is currently doing his masters in conflict resolution and mediation in the US, said he had few journalism courses at UNESCO program prior to joining the media.
Born on July 26, 1978, at a village in the Lower Baddibu District, Makalo said he started his journalism career with The Independent newspaper in July 1999 where he worked until it was closed.