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Gambian journalist reports second set of death threats

Journalist Abubacarr Saidykhan
Journalist Abubacarr Saidykhan

Media Foundation for West Africa

(IPI/IFEX) - 16 November 2012 - A Gambian journalist who said he received an emailed death threat in late October now says he has been threatened verbally by a group of men who drove by his home in a darkly-windowed vehicle late on Tuesday.

The International Press Institute condemned the reported threat and reiterated its call to police to investigate.

Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelance journalist, said that he was warned: "We have asked you that we will come for you without any further information. We got an information that you are a very stubborn journalist. The next time we meet you, your head will be hammered by one of our patriotic killers. Just continue to ignore our warnings."

He also reported that a man was recently seen lurking near his compound where he appeared to be making a sketch of the location of Saidykhan's house. Saidykhan said he was with a police officer that had been assigned to him after the first emailed death threat. When the officer attempted to question the stranger, he drove away.

"IPI reiterates that death threats against Gambian journalists cannot be taken lightly, and urge police to conduct a full investigation," said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "Despite the unfortunate, repressive, unenlightened opinion of Gambian President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh regarding the issue of press freedom, it is indeed the duty of government to ensure journalists safety and uphold media freedom. The Gambia should fulfill its responsibilities."

This is the second time that Saidykhan has reportedly been threatened since criminal charges against him and another journalist, Babucarr Ceesay of the African Review, were dropped. In early September, Saidykhan and Ceesay were detained for several days after they applied for a police permit to hold a demonstration. Both journalists were charged with incitement to violence and conspiracy to commit a felony, while Ceesay was additionally charged with seditious publication. After weeks in which the journalists regularly had to check in with police, all charges were dropped, reportedly on the orders of Jammeh.

On Oct. 25, Saidykhan and Ceesay said they received an emailed death threat signed by "Mofala Jato and his team of patriotic killers". The email warned them that if they ignore the threat, "you will not survive it at all," and listed the journalists' home addresses.

As IPI noted, The Gambia has a history of violence toward journalists, including the 2004 murder of The Point newspaper's chief editor, Deyda Hydara, and the 2000 shooting of radio news editor Omar Barrow. Journalist Chief Ebrimah Manneh, who was arrested in 2006 and has not been seen since, may have died in government custody.

Censorship and media repression are the norm in the tiny West African country, which President Jammeh rules with an iron fist. During the election that returned him to office for a fourth term in November 2011, Jammeh was quoted as saying: "When they talk about rights, freedom of the press and [say] this country is a hell for journalists ... There are freedoms and responsibilities. The journalists are less than 1% of the population and if anybody expects me to allow less than 1% of the population to destroy 99% of the population, you are in the wrong place."

Three news media houses have been closed for several months now. Teranga FM was shut down on Aug. 14 for translating news from the English press into local languages. A month later, the English-language newspapers The Standard and The Daily News were shut down by security officers.
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