Human Rights, Opinion

OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BARROW FREE JOURNALISTS AND ALLOW RADIO RESUME ON AIR:

Dear President Adama Barrow,
Your election has raised high hopes of democratic change in The Gambia, and we would like to draw your attention to a recent arrest of media practitioners and journalists also the closure of two private radio stations.
Mr.President, we are distressed to observe the continuation of systematic human rights abuses in the Gambia, and the brutal crackdown against critical voices whose peaceful efforts are aimed at encouraging the Gambia government to uphold the most basic standards of human rights and international law as well to respect freedom of the media as enshrined in the constitution.
Mr. President, we call on your government to drop all charges against Pa Modou Bojang, proprietor of Home Digital FM, Manager Gibbi of King FM radio and media practitioners, Mr. Ebrima Jallow and Mr.Madiou Jallow as well as their fellow activists to ensure that they resume broadcasting immediately without delay and others have the right to speak and advocate freely and without fear of repercussions.
Mr. President, On Sunday 26 January 2020, two privately-owned radio stations, Home Digital FM and King FM, were raided and shut down by police, who accused both outlets of “broadcasting incendiary” messages and inciting violence in their reporting of the demonstrations by a pressure group’ 3 Years JotNa’.
Mr. Presidnt, A dozen armed officers raided the headquarters of Home Digital FM in the city of Brikama, ordered staff to cease operating immediately and arrested the station’s manager, Pa Modou Bojang, Hours later police also raided the Tallinding-based King FM and ordered staff to leave the building immediately, arresting reporters, Ebrima Jallow and Madiou Jallow, and station manager Gibbi Jallow. The raids came as security forces in the nearby capital city Banjul used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse thousands of protesters who were calling on president Adama Barrow to step down, according to media reports.
Mr. President, All four media practitioners were held behind bars in various police stations without access to lawyers for over 48 hours. Mr. President, This action is “unlawful” and tantamounts an attempt to intimidate media and restrict access to information on the protests. They were later charged with “incitement to violence” and released on bail. Both King FM and Home Digital FM have denied airing flammable material. Both outlets remain sealed off by armed police.
Mr. President, These closures and arrests are an apparent attempt to suffocate news reporting on the protests and constitute an apparent attack on media freedom. We call on the Gambia government to drop the charges against all four staff and to immediately revoke the closure of both Home Digital FM and King FM radio stations.
Mr.President, We aspire that The Gambia be a proponent of democracy by enabling reporters to carry out their professions without fear of retribution and by empowering diverse voices for building a greater Gambia with tolerance, civil liberties, and understanding.
Mr. President, This kind of impulsive behavior cannot be overlooked because it would mean tolerating intimidation and harassment against journalists, as was the case under your predecessor, President Yahya Jammeh, whose long years as president were marked by many violations of human rights and freedom of expression.
Mr. President, The Gambia, is ranked 30 out of 92 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, and Yahya Jammeh was on RSF’s list of press freedom predators. Under his regime, freedom of information was repeatedly flouted, communications were cut or censored, and journalists were attacked, arrested, tortured, sentenced to death, or murdered. Some, such as Chief Ebrimah Manneh, disappeared without any proper investigation by the authorities, leaving families deeply wounded.
The International community also hail the choice for the position of information, communication, and technology ministerMr. Ebrima Sillah, a former journalist, who has promised the necessary legislative reforms.
Mr.President, We are aware of the extent of the challenges you face and the wounds that the Gambian people must heal to move forward. A profound transformation is essential to turn the page on the Jammeh era and to restore Gambians’ trust in state institutions.
Mr. President, The public commitments that the Gambia has made to press freedom will remain empty words without urgent action. The goals your government has set for itself, including rooting out corruption, cannot be fulfilled without a press that can operate independently, safely, and without fear of retaliation.
Mr. President, We, therefore, urge you and your government to free Pa Modou Bojang, Gibbi Jallow, Ebrima Jallow, and Mr.Madiou Jallow immediately and unconditionally also drop all charges against them, and ensure that the radio stations resume broadcasting immediately.
Mr. President, this is first and foremost your battle, but journalists also have a pivotal role to play in a country’s democratic life. The men and women of the media must be able to work freely to rebuild trust between Gambians, democracy, and the rule of law. To this end, we hope we will have your full support.
Sincerely,
Alagi Yorro Jallow
Former Founding Managing Editor of the banned Independent.

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