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Authorities arrest seven journalists for criticising President

Seven journalists and press union leaders were arrested this past week for criticising the Gambian President for his comments on the unsolved 2004 murder of a prominent editor, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Gambia's National Intelligence Agency (NIA) arrested seven journalists in connection with a press statement issued on 12 June by the Gambian Press Union (GPU). The statement criticised President Yahya Jammeh for his assertion that the state was not involved in the murder of Deyda Hydara, which has yet to be solved, and that press freedom was respected in the country.

The seven are: managing editor Sam Sarr and reporter Abubacarr Saidykhan, of the pro-opposition "Foroyaa" newspaper; deputy managing editor Ebrima Sawaneh and publisher Pap Saine of "The Point" newspaper; and GPU's general secretary Emil Touray, vice president Sarata Jabbi and treasurer Pa Modou Fall.

"We firmly stand by our statements... and are today, more than ever before determined to remain steadfast, courageous, and, to speak the truth, only the truth and nothing but the truth," said Ndey Tapha Sosseh, GPU president. According to Sosseh, the NIA action contravenes Section 207 of the 1997 Gambian Constitution and various regional and international treaties.

"The failure of the Gambian authorities to bring those responsible for the killing of Deyda Hydara to justice has rightly angered local journalists," said CPJ. "Instead of answering journalists' legitimate questions about this case, the authorities are locking them up. They should be released immediately."

Hydara, editor and co-founder of "The Point", who was also the Gambia correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and RSF, was shot dead on 16 December 2004 in the capital Banjul. At the time of his death Hydara had become identified with outspokenness and barbed criticism of the government.

RSF said media harassment had reached unprecedented levels with the arrests. President Jammeh has for several years been on RSF's list of "Press Freedom Predators". Gambia is ranked 137th out of 173 countries on the organisation's worldwide press freedom index.

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