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Bans on two Gambian media outlets lifted, but violations of free expression continue

Reporters Without Borders takes note of a New Year's Day announcement by the president's office lifting bans on The Standard newspaper and Teranga FM community radio station. The bans had been in effect for more than 16 months.

“This announcement, described as a goodwill gesture by President Yahya Jammeh for the New Year, must not divert attention from all the violations of freedom of information that have taken place in recent months or the threats that continue to hang over journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Teranga FM was banned on 14 August 2012 for ignoring government warnings to stop broadcasting a very popular programme in which reports from the print media were read out on the air in Gambia's various languages. Launched in 2009, the radio had previously been silenced in January 2011.

The Standard was banned on 15 September 2012 for criticizing the presidential decision to end a 30-year-old moratorium on implementing the death penalty by having nine people executed. A ban that was imposed at the same time on the Daily News, another privately-owned paper, has yet to be lifted.

The announcement lifting the bans on The Standard and Teranga FM urged them to “operate within the framework of the laws governing the media in this country.” But this offers few guarantees as the main media law, already one of the most repressive in Africa, was made even tougher last July.

Gambia's few independent media are often threatened on the grounds that they pose a danger to state security. Media personnel live in constant fear and censor themselves. Journalists who cause offence may have their passports confiscated to prevent them leaving the country. Others are subjected to judicial persecution.

Arrested in September and held incommunicado for several weeks, popular TV presenter Fatou Camara ended up fleeing the country to avoid trial on a sedition charge. A Foroyaa Newspaper messenger was arrested in November on charges of sedition and denigrating the president after ironically suggesting in a conversation that the president's portrait should be pasted in the sky. The Observer newspaper's deputy editor Alhagie Jobe is meanwhile imprisoned and being tried since February on four different charges in connection with the same article.

“The government must stop resorting to measures that make it impossible for the media to operate freely in Gambia, including outright bans and frequent prosecutions of journalists and other media personnel,” Reporters Without Borders added. “In particular, we urge President Jammeh to lift the continuing ban on the Daily News.”

Jammeh, who is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “predators of press freedom,” has yet to name a successor to the information and communication minister, former journalist Nana Grey-Johnson, who he fired on 27 November 2013.

Gambia is ranked 152nd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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