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US-based online paper inaccessible from Gambia, deliberate blocking by government suspected

(MFWA/IFEX) - Since the beginning of March 2008, Gambians have been unable to access the "Freedom Newspaper" (http://www.freedomnewspaper.com/ ), an online Gambian newspaper based in the United States of America, which has been very critical of the administration of President Yahya Jammeh.

The "Freedom Newspaper", which can be accessed outside the boundaries of The Gambia, is accusing the country's telecommunication company, GAMTEL, of blocking the website's IP-address, following a story it carried about the company.

On 9 March, the newspaper reported that due to mismanagement, the state-run GAMTEL was on the brink of total bankruptcy.

This is not the first time the "Freedom Newspaper" has been attacked by the Gambian authorities. On 22 May 2006, the "Freedom Newspaper" and "ALL Gambian" ( http://www.allgambian.net/ ), another online newspaper, were blocked for their criticism of the regime following the hacking of the "Freedom" website. After this, the pro-government "Daily Observer" newspaper published personal details including names and phones numbers of a number of Gambians who had allegedly been sending damaging information to the online newspaper.

Five journalists were arrested and detained for several days without trial before being released. Omar Bah, then news editor of the "Daily Observer", escaped into exile, when he was declared wanted for his contributions to the website.

Under the regime of President Yahya Jammeh, the Gambian media has suffered great oppression. Critics of the authorities are systematically pressured into withholding their views, and journalists criticizing the government are often forced into exile. In addition, a reporter, Chief Ebrima Manneh, has been "missing" since 11 July 2006, and on 16 December 2004, the Editor in Chief of "The Point", Deyda Hydara, was gunned down by unknown assailants.

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