When Daily News journalist Mamodou S Jallow reported allegations by farmers against a local chief last week, he was promptly detained, and charged with libel. Jallow has yet to appear in court, but could be slapped with a fine of more than $8,000. Press freedom organisations have condemned his treatment at the hands of authorities. By SAIKOU CEESAY.
The PR officer of the Gambian police force confirmed earlier this week that Momodou S Jallow, the Daily News reporter who was arrested last Friday, has been charged with libel. Jallow, who was released on bail after spending about five hours behind bars at Bansang police station where he was interrogated, is yet to appear in court. Police spokesperson Superintendent Yerro Mballow said on Monday: “We don’t have a magistrate in that area but any day he can appear before the court.”
Both Jallow and his interviewee, rice farmer Boto Fatajo from the Central River Region of The Gambia, were arrested after the publication of a Daily News story on 4 January. The article detailed a district Chief’s alleged extra-marital scandal, as well as allegations of bribery. The story was headlined: “Presidential hajj Package scandal; Chief Baldeh allegedly bribes lover”, and alleges that Chief Mamadou Lamin Baldeh bribed his alleged lover by awarding her a hajj package sponsored by President Yahya Jammeh. The package was purportedly meant for Boto Fatajo, the chief’s accuser.
The allegations, which Baldeh dismissed as untrue, came in the wake of yet another postponement of the annual general meeting of the CRR Rice Farmers Cooperative Society, of which Baldeh is a prominent member – albeit one currently under fire.
Journalist Jallow and the rice grower were arrested at Brikamaba police post at 3.00pm and taken to Bansang police station where they were detained, interrogated and released on bail five hours later. A family relative served surety for the reporter, who is set to report to the police station again on Monday. If convicted, the journalist is liable to a fine of between 50,000 and 250,000 Gambian Dalasi ($1,637 to $8,185) or a maximum jail term of two years.
The editor-in-chief of the Daily News, Saihou Jammeh, condemned Jallow's arrest as an attack on press freedom, telling Jollof News: “The charges are not only bogus, they are out of place in this particular case.” Both the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Media Foundation of West Africa have also spoken out against Jallow's detention and harassment.
Meanwhile, Gambian journalists are operating under a hostile media environment characterised by anti-media freedom laws, torture, arrests and detentions, prosecution under draconian laws, and violent attacks against media outfits and practitioners.?Seven years on, there lingers an unresolved case of the murder of a prominent editor and publisher, Deyda Hydara; and journalist Omar Barrow; as well as the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh, a senior reporter on the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper. FAM
- Read more: Gambian journalist harassed for reporting farmers' complaints, at the Committee to Protect Journalists
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Photo: Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Reuters.