The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, the government restricted these rights. According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, “the environment for independent and opposition media remained hostile, with numerous obstacles to freedom of expression, including administrative hurdles, arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation and judicial harassment against journalists, and the closure of media outlets, leading to self-censorship.”
Freedom of Speech: Individuals who publicly or privately criticized the government or the president risked government reprisal.
For example, in June 2011 security forces arrested without charge Alhaji Ismaila Manjang, a prominent Islamic scholar and imam in the coastal town of Gunjur. The arrest followed Manjang’s graduation speech at his Islamic institute in which he condemned practices that could be considered idolatrous, such as visits to shrines to seek blessings. Manjang was subsequently held incommunicado at NIA headquarters for four days. As of year’s end, Manjang had not been charged with any offense but was required to report frequently to the NIA.
Freedom of Press: Laws that impose excessive bonds on media institutions require newspapers to reregister annually, and mandate harsh punishment for the publication of so-called false information undermined constitutional protections. According to Freedom House, these provisions gave authorities great power to silence dissent.
In March 2011 President Jammeh warned independent journalists that he would “not compromise or sacrifice the peace, security, stability, dignity, and the well being of Gambians for the sake of freedom of expression.” Accusing some journalists of being the “mouthpiece of opposition parties,” he vowed to prosecute any journalist who offended him.
The government published The Gambia Info newspaper, formerly called The Gambia Daily. The privately owned Daily Observer newspaper favored the government in its coverage. There were seven other independent newspapers, including one published by an opposition political party that remained highly critical of the government. There was one independent biweekly magazine dealing with political and economic issues.
The government-owned Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) and nine private radio stations broadcast throughout the country. The GRTS gave limited coverage to political opposition activities. GRTS television, foreign cable, and satellite television channels that broadcast independent news coverage were available in many parts of the country, and the government allowed unrestricted access to such networks.
Violence and Harassment: Media restrictions tightened during the year, and the government continued to harass and detain journalists. Numerous journalists remained in self-imposed exile due to government threats and harassment.
On December 9, journalist Abdoulie John, Banjul editor of the online newspaper JollofNews and correspondent for Associated Press, was arrested by the NIA at an event marking the release of eight Senegalese security personnel captured by forces of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), a rebel group seeking independence for the southern Senegalese region of Casamance. John was arrested after an argument with a State House photographer who questioned his authorization to be at the event. John was held overnight and released after signing a bail bond for 50,000 dalasi ($1,470) and relinquishing his travel documents.
In June 2011 police arrested and detained overnight at Police Intervention Unit (PIU) headquarters Ahmed Alota, executive director of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), following the transmission by Skype of a statement made by Ndey Tapha Sosseh, the union’s exiled former president, at the GPU Congress. In July 2011 journalist Madi S. Njie, the newly elected secretary general of the GPU, was arrested at the offices of The Standard newspaper. Njie reportedly was questioned about a report on Alota’s arrest sent to the Ghana-based media watchdog Media Foundation for West Africa and the underground civil society organization The Coalition for Change, of which Sosseh was a member. Both Alota and Njie were released without charge.
Journalists from news outlets perceived to be critical of the government were routinely denied access to public information and were excluded from covering official events at certain venues.
On October 16, journalists Binta Bah of The Daily News and Sainey Marenah of The Standard newspaper were removed from a courtroom in Banjul where they went to cover the proceedings in the appeal case of former general Lang Tombong Tamba and others. NIA officers at the court asserted they received instructions from the Office of the President not to allow the two journalists to cover the proceedings because their newspapers were barred from publishing.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Private media outlets generally practiced self-censorship for fear of reprisal by the government, and many refrained from publishing content deemed contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects. Nevertheless, opposition views regularly appeared in the independent press, and there was frequent criticism of the government in the printed English-language private media.
On August 14, officers from the NIA stormed the studios of a community radio station, Taranga FM in the village of Sinchu Alhaji, and ordered the proprietor, Ismaila Ceesay, to shut down the station. They also demanded the names and telephone numbers of the members of the station’s board of directors as well as the station’s operational license. The NIA officers gave no reason for the closure, but the action came only days after the station carried a lengthy interview with outspoken opposition politician Omar Jallow. This was the third time that Taranga FM was forced to cease operation. It was first ordered off the air for 32 days in January and February 2011 for translating newspaper articles into local languages, a valued service for the largely illiterate segment of the population. The station was subsequently allowed to resume broadcasting on condition that it did not review opposition newspapers. It was again closed in August 2011 when NIA officers ordered the station to suspend its press reviews. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the action as an “illegal act of political censorship designed to silence Taranga FM ahead of the November presidential elections. The station remained closed at year’s end.
On September 14, three NIA officers led by officer Modou Ceesay walked into the offices of independent newspapers The Daily News and The Standard and ordered the editors to cease publication immediately. They gave no reason but simply stated that the orders were from the Office of the President, which oversees the NIA. The publishers of the two newspapers visited NIA headquarters to determine the reason for the closures but received no explanation. They told the CPJ that they were convinced they were targeted for the extensive coverage they gave to the execution of nine death row prisoners in August, including interviews, letters from readers, and public statements opposing and supporting the executions.
Libel Laws/National Security: The NIA was involved in arbitrary closure of media outlets and the extrajudicial detention of journalists; however, there were no reports of torture during the year.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms without appropriate legal authority. Individuals and groups could generally engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. However, Internet users reported they could not access the Web sites of foreign online newspapers Freedom, The Gambia Echo, Hellogambia, and Jollofnews, which criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunications Union, 10.87 percent of individuals used the Internet in 2011.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.