Africa, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom

RIGHTS-GAMBIA: What Has Govt Got To Hide?

Ebrima Sillah interviews NDEY TAPHA SOSSEH, president of the Gambian Press Union

DAKAR, Jul 6 2009 (IPS) - Following a court appearance on Jul. 3, six of the seven Gambian journalists who were arrested and charged with sedition last month were again sent to Mile 2 Prison.

Ndey Tapha Sosseh: 'We will use the pages of our newspapers to condemn not only the statements of the president, but also the travesty of justice.' Credit:  freedomnewspaper.com

Ndey Tapha Sosseh: 'We will use the pages of our newspapers to condemn not only the statements of the president, but also the travesty of justice.' Credit: freedomnewspaper.com

The seventh journalist, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, who is also the Vice President of the Gambia Press Union was granted bail in the sum of 200,000 Gambian dalasis – about $6,000 – to look after her six-month-old baby until the next court date on Jul. 8.

Their return to prison after earlier being released on jail followed the transfer of their case from the Magistrates court to the High Court of the Gambia. During Friday’s hearing, the State also added an additional charge of criminal defamation against the journalists.

In an interview with IPS, the President of the Gambia Press Union, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, condemned the decision of the High Court judge to remand the journalists to prison.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

IPS: So what is your reaction to the ruling of the court that sent these journalists to prison? Ndey Tapha Sosseh: Well I consider this an insult to the dignity of the Gambian people; I consider it a travesty of justice. I think that the justice that presided over the hearing must be shamed because this is unacceptable…


I cannot believe that a justice of the High Court of the Gambia could take such hasty, unacceptable decisions and nothing is being said in the Gambia, nothing is being done about it by the Gambian people.

And that’s what I find very provocative right now. Why would people not speak up?

Actually, let me not talk about the masses because I hear that there is a lot of public support for the journalists.

But there are institutions in the Gambia; their existence to me is not necessary right now! Because why would we have a Bar Association that would allow a High Court judge to sit there and make such decisions in the face of human rights, in the face of the Gambian people and not take any action?

Why would we have religious leaders who dare not stand up and speak out against what is happening in the Gambia right now?

IPS: What does this mean to the practice of independent journalism in the Gambia? NTS: It is indeed a setback. But for those of us who are true journalists, we will remain steadfast, we will remain truthful, and we will remain courageous because the only thing they can do right now is what has happened to Deyda Hydara.

What is wrong with going to prison for speaking the truth? If speaking the truth can put me in prison they can keep me there for 15 years because I don’t care! Right now that’s how I feel.

If the head of state has the right to go on the state TV and make a statement we have a right to respond to those statements. Why should he be offended by those statements? Why should he be offended that we asked who killed Deyda Hydara? Why would he stand in public and ridicule Deyda Hydara?

IPS: When you assumed the presidency of the Gambia Press Union, you wanted to improve participation of women generally in the media. But with what is happening now, do you think women will be encouraged to join the journalism profession in the Gambia? NTS: This is definitely a setback for women's participation in the media. Because why would anybody want their daughter or sister or wife or a woman related to them to be harassed like the way Sarata is being harassed right now?

She is a nursing mother. Why would anybody want to see a nursing mother being put into prison for expressing her opinion?

IPS: It doesn't seem as if the Gambian government is listening to the voices of concern. As the president of the Gambia Press Union, what will you do next to ensure that your colleagues are released and that the government respects the fundamental rights of journalists in the country? NTS: This is an interesting question because first and foremost we are journalists, and the only tool we have right now is our media outlets.

We will still use the pages of our newspapers; we will use any media outlet that is available to us to condemn what is happening right now not only the statements of the president but also the travesty of justice.

The state is trying to use the law, twisted to its advantage. So how do we fight this? We need the partnership of the Gambia Bar Association; we need the partnership of the civil society organisations in the Gambia and we need the partnership of the religious organisations and other faith-based organisations.

And we will approach them. Whether they take up the challenge or not, is their problem, but we will approach them.

We’re not stopping there… We’ve included the diplomatic community from the first day. We will go back to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); we will go back to the African Union (AU), we will go back to European Union and we will go back to the U.N. because I think the Gambia government has international obligations as well that it should look up to.

These arrests are unconstitutional. Why is the government so nervous about a free press? What has government got to hide?

IPS: Well, the Gambian president always accuses the media of bias and also lack of professionalism? NTS: The private in media in the Gambia is very professional given the context within which they operate; given the media laws that we have in the Gambia… I think we are very professional in comparison to the other media that we have in the sub-region. But that aside, he the president is the one who always uses the media in unprofessional context.

 
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