Mam Harr Ceesay has worked at the Gambia’s revenue department since the year a Marxist leader, Kukoi Samba Sanyang attempted to oust the West African nation’s then president, Sir Dawda Jawara. That was in 1981 and that is how long Mam Harr Ceesay has been employed at the income tax department.
Ceesay is now detained by feared intelligence agents notorious for torture. They are called the NIA – National Intelligence Agency and are answerable only to The Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, who is accused of transforming the country into the North Korea of Africa – an intelligence and information black hole.
Jammeh is known to many as an African strongman, who is anti-homosexual, executes citizens, torture and imprisons political opponents, journalists and activists.
“The thuggery, savagery and barbarity of this regime continue unabated,” said political commentator, Omar Ann. He believes that unless Gambians assume greater responsibility, rights violations will continue to be the norm.
This is because in this tiny West African nations, even two American citizens, Ebou Jobe and Alhagie Ceesay have gone missing for years.
This is the country, where senior government officials, military chiefs, former ministers and top educated elites are all imprisoned. Critics describe it as an entire government in jail.
Interestingly, Mam Harr Ceesay is closely related to one of the missing Americans – Alhagie Ceesay, who has worked for oil company, Chevron in Texas.
Mam Harr was arrested after she spoke to a controversial Gambian journalist, Pa Nderry Mbai of the Freedom Newspaper. Mbai went undercover and posed as a taxpayer seeking information on the rental income tax procedure.
There was nothing confidential about what Ms Ceesay told Mbai – that is, in a normal country.
Ms Ceesay informed Mr Mbai of rental tax percentage, how such taxes can be paid and the revenue authority’s contribution to the national budget. All Ms Ceesay said are very important for public consumption and they are very true as provided for in the national budget speech by the country’s finance minister.
Yet she is arrested leaving many asking why?
“The arrest and continued detention of Mam Harr Ceesay is a travesty of justice,” said DUGA Spokesperson, Pa Samba Jow.
“It is quite tragic that the Jammeh regime continues to resort to blatant barbarism of preying on innocent defenseless citizens of The Gambia,” the activist said.
Jow said Mam Harr is one of the penurious nation’s finest and most experienced civil servants, hailed as being an honest, dignified and incorruptible character.
This is not the first time Mbai covertly interviewed Gambian officials. He interviewed the Gambia’s former Minister of Justice, Momodou Lamin Jobarteh, who promised to convince the government to overturn an anti-journalism bill in exchange for financial help to the country.
But the biggest of all was in 2012, when Mbai interviewed the Gambia’s unsuspecting Vice President, Isatou Njie Saidy, who had in effect put the country’s national security at risk with that interview.
Of course, the online media that Mr Mbai works for is very critical of the Jammeh Administration. No government official will speak to Mr Mbai knowing it is him, but on this occasion, many took to social media blaming the journalist for the arrest of Ms Ceesay, saying he could have distorted her voice and report the story without identifying who he spoke with, knowing the type of government he is dealing with.
“She is an innocent citizen, not an official who is enabling Jammeh or helping him to abuse us,” many say.
According to Malik Kah who listened to the interview, Mam Harr “is nothing but an upright person – an embodiment of the values we all cherish.”
“She was cheerful and very professional….. We cannot allow state abductions to be the order of the day,” Kah pointed.
Veteran Gambian journalist, Dawda A. Jawo after the September 2012 interview of VP Njie Saidy said “knowing the governance environment operating in the Gambia, she would have never willingly granted such an interview to anyone, most especially to Pa Nderry of all people.”
This could be true for Mam Harr as well. She would not have said a word if Mr Mbai announces himself as the Leral Show Anchor from Freedom Radio and Newspaper.
In the 2012 interview, even though VP Njie-Saidy avoided commenting on the death of journalists Deyda Hydara and Ebrima Manneh, she went on to discuss President Jammeh’s personal life and other national security matters.
The VP at this time was thinking she is talking to an APRC party militant. The APRC is the Gambia’s ruling party.
This shows how party loyalty overrides security protocol.
It demonstrates how the government of The Gambia can easily be infiltrated and has since made it the most evidently unreliable ally to any nation that will strike security partnerships with any nation.
It portrayed how easy it is for anyone to even obtain security details and other such information of top officials, from the President to the janitor.
One thing is obvious, it shows how information is leaked – from the very top.
For more than an hour, the unsuspecting Vice President went on talking.
“In any other democratic country, VP Njie-Saidy would have either resigned for being in obvious breach of national security or she would have been sacked, but in the Gambia, no such thing is likely to happen. Therefore, it is business as usual as if nothing out of the ordinary ever happened,” Dawda A. Jawo said.
Well, VP Isatou Njie-Saidy neither resigned nor was she arrested. She was not investigated neither and it still remains a mystery how Mbai got Njie-Saidy’s hotel room number.
Intelligence officers lack investigation skills and could not trace the leakage of the number till today. Even if President Jammeh wants to keep his hotel address secret, activists have always been successful in getting secret information of that nature from the government and stage demonstrations in front of Jammeh’s hotel.
There is no national security in Gambia.
So why was Mam Harr arrested and still detained, when she did not put the national security at risk while Isatou Njie-Saidy is still the VP? She answered questions that could have been asked on GRTS and the same answers would have been given anyway.
“All Gambians of conscience must condemn her detention and demand for her immediate and unconditional release,” Pa Samba Jow added.
After Pa Nderry Mbai’s successful interview of key Ministers, the Gambia government put in place a ‘need-to-know’ basis for information sharing but that did not curb the problem.
President Jammeh warned his cabinet members and senior government officials to be mindful of who they speak to especially when they receive calls from outside the Gambian and particularly people they do not know.
Mam Harr Ceesay has not committed any crime and cannot be arrested, detained nor prosecuted. She was simply arrested for speaking to Pa Nderry Mbai, unknowingly – that’s the issue.
Now activists are joining her family who are appealing to everyone to help alert the world that their loved one is still being detained by the Gambia.
“We are appealing to everyone that cares for human rights and life to share the same information including Pa Nderry Mbai until she is released,” Juka Ceesay, a family member said.
Mam Harr was arrested from her office in Banjul and has not been seen since then and rights observers say decent and hardworking Gambians are exposed daily to a cruelty unheard of.
Ebrima Williams, an activist associated the Gambia’s problem to a lack of compassion and high illiteracy, which has poisoned the Gambian society, identifying that – innocent and hardworking women suffer the most in such situations.