24 September 2003
IPI concerned about editor's disappearance and previous harassment of "The Independent" newspaper
(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI letter to President Yahya Jammeh:
H.E. President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh
Fax: +220 227 034
Vienna, 24 September 2003
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives, wishes to express its concern at the disappearance of Abdoulie Sey, the editor-in-chief of the bi-weekly Independent newspaper.
On the basis of information provided to IPI, Sey was apparently arrested on 19 September by plainclothes security agents in the capital of Gambia, Banjul. As of 23 September, Sey's precise whereabouts were unknown. Moreover, the authorities have declined to provide any reasons for his arrest.
According to sources who spoke to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), officers from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) have denied arresting Sey. However, these claims have been met with suspicion, particularly in light of the way these agencies have previously treated The Independent's staff members, including Sey.
On 27 June, men dressed in similar uniforms to The Gambia National Guards paid a night time visit to The Independent's office as staff were finishing their work. The "predawn raid" is believed to have been instigated after the newspaper printed a story regarding the arrest of a military officer for alleged misappropriation of funds.
During the following day, Sey and The Independent's Managing Editor, Alagi Yorro, were invited to visit the offices of the NIA where they were told that the story regarding the officer had jeopardised the agency's own investigations. The authorities have also shown a marked intolerance for articles concerning leading political figures.
On 2 August 2002, The Independent journalist Pa Ousman Darboe was arrested for writing an article about the apparent remarriage of Nije Saidy, The Gambian vice-president. Darboe was released on 5 August 2002. Prior to Darboe's arrest, on 19 July 2002, agents of the NIA arrested Congolese reporter Guy-Patrick Massoloka who was eventually released on 1 August 2002.
In the opinion of IPI, the arrest of Sey and the previous arrests of The Independent's staff represent an unwarranted assault on the newspaper's right to report free of constraints and on press freedom in The Gambia as a whole. The right to write and speak freely is an internationally guaranteed human right and IPI invites The Gambian government to respect this and to call a halt to its arrests of The Independent's staff.
Moreover, IPI believes that it is the duty of the arresting body to provide details of both the arrest and the charges in order to allow Sey to obtain counsel and prepare any possible defence. By failing to provide this information, The Gambian government is reinforcing the belief that the charges are frivolous and without substance and, as such, are merely an attempt at government intimidation. Therefore, IPI calls on the government to release Sey on bail and substantiate the charges against him.
Finally, IPI would remind Your Excellency that "Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers", in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that The Gambian authorities should uphold this principle.
We thank you for your attention.
Johann P. Fritz