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"Foroyaa" newspaper reporter detained overnight while investigating journalist's arrest; editorial independence of "Daily Observer" undermined

(MFWA/IFEX) - Saikou Ceesay, a reporter with the Banjul-based opposition "Foroyaa" newspaper, was arrested on 15 June 2008 and detained overnight in the Kotu police station in Kombo province, about 11 kilometres southwest of Banjul, the capital of The Gambia.

MFWA sources reported that Ceesay was arrested at the police station while investigating the arrest and detention of pro-government "Daily Observer" managing director, Dida Halake.

The sources said Ceesay was taken to the Serious Crime Unit at the police headquarters in Banjul the following day, where he was interrogated before being released on bail.

Even though he has not been charged with any offence, Ceesay was asked to report to the police on 17 June.

Ceesay was reported to have been harassed and insulted while in detention.

It was clarified that Halake is still being detained by the police.

Although there has not been any official explanation from either the police or the "Daily Observer" management for Halake's arrest and subsequent detention, he has been linked with several allegations including financial misappropriation and sexual harassment of the newspaper's female staff.

However, MFWA sources in The Gambia reported that his arrest on 14 June 2008 followed his reluctance to step down as Managing Director for the "Daily Observer".

The sources said Halake, a Kenyan-born journalist, was to hand over his position as managing director to Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, former Minister for Communication and Information, and assume the position of editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

Two days after his arrest, on 16 June Halaka was seen in the company of police personnel at the "Daily Observer" premises. The police were reportedly present to ensure that Halaka handed over the position of managing director to Macdouall-Gaye.

Since the deportation of Kenneth Best, veteran Liberian journalist and founder of the "Daily Observer", about a decade ago, the newspaper has become a propaganda tool of the regime of President Yahya Jammeh. Party functionaries have managed the newspaper and been its guard dogs. Editorial independence has been undermined. Independent journalists are perceived as opposition elements, and subjected to arbitrary arrests and dismissals.

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