RSF is particularly concerned about Momodou Sabally, who was fired as director-general of Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) on 8 November and was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency later the same day, and Bakary Fatty, a GRTS journalist who was also arrested on 8 November. Both are still held.
Their arrests, which came just days after Jammeh warned the media that he would tolerate no criticism in connection with the elections, are clearly the result of the autocratic president’s annoyance over perceived political slights.
When Sabally was brought before a Banjul court 11 November, he was accused of causing the state to sustain economic losses when presidential affairs minister in 2014 – a charge that was already brought against him and then dismissed in 2015. He refused to enter a plea when he appeared in court again on 29 November.
No charge has so far been brought against Fatty, who has still not been able to see his lawyer. He is now being held in a completely illegal manner because, under Gambian law, he should have been released within 72 hours in the absence of any charges.
The state broadcaster’s news coverage seems to have upset the regime. A few days before the arrests of Sabally and Fatty, GRTS ran a story about the opposition, which for the first time has managed to unite by behind a single candidate, Adama Barrow. It replaced a previously scheduled story about an event held by the First Lady.
“Aside from the illegality of the methods used, these arbitrary arrests and proceedings are a deliberate political bid to control the main state media outlet just days ahead of the election,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The president is sending a threatening message, an act of censorship of the national TV broadcaster.”
There have been other examples of the regime’s current paranoia towards the media. The photographer Alhagie Manka was held from 10 to 16 November for taking photos of members of the ruling party’s youth wing without accreditation.
On 9 November – the day that it was confirmed that Jammeh was running for another term – Yunus Salieu, a journalist with the pro-government Daily Observer, was arrested for taking photos with his mobile phone and was held for 40 hours. The security services thought he was going to send the photos to an anti-Jammeh campaign on social networks.
Gambia is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.