By Madi Jobarteh
The verbal and physical attacks meted out to journalist Pa Modou Bojang by personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) while he was doing his media work in the wake of the Faraba Incident calls for urgent action by the Gambia Government to bring perpetrators to justice. Journalists are extremely important stakeholders in the governance and development of any society which is why the freedom, safety and development of the media and journalists have been guaranteed by law and policy around the world.
Both local and international law protect the right of journalists to do their work in safety. Clear obligations have been placed on not only States but also on all other non-state actors to ensure that they protect journalists at all times from intimidation, harassment, violent attacks including the destruction and confiscation of their gadgets among others.
In fact in 2002 the Banjul-based African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, in their 32nd Session issued the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in which they stated in Chapter 11 on ‘Attacks on Media Practitioners’ that,
1. Attacks such as the murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as the material destruction of communications facilities, undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public.
2. States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.
3. In times of conflict, States shall respect the status of media practitioners as non-combatants.
By these principles the Gambia Government is under an obligation to ensure the safety of journalists. These obligations are further emphasized in international and regional treaties that the Gambia has ratified such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the ECOWAS Treaty.
The assault on Pa Modou Bojang was not just a direct threat to him as a person, but it was also a direct threat to the people of the Gambia in that the security personnel do not wish citizens to get to know what they did in Faraba. By attacking Pa Modou, they wish to deny citizens the right and the ability to obtain relevant information and ensure accountability. In other words these officers wanted to perpetuate impunity in the Gambia by suppressing information and silencing voices.
For that matter the PIU can best be described as a terror group that threatens the very sovereignty of Gambians. It is only terror groups, dictators, criminals and corrupt institutions and individuals that suppress information and silence voices and close eyes on them. These officers have therefore flouted their legitimacy as bestowed on them by the people of the Gambia. By their criminal act they have therefore impugned the reputation of a legally constituted public institution for which they must be held to account.
In the inquiry on the Faraba Incident, the assault on journalist Pa Modou Bojang must be investigated with urgency to ensure justice. It is disheartening to learn that even when the journalist comported himself well while they questioned him still these security personnel went ahead to verbally and physically assault Pa Modou to the point of sustaining grievous bodily pain.
Perpetrators must be exposed and justice must be done.
For the Gambia Our Homeland.