Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has ordered the abrupt closure of two private radios after the stations aired debates on the country’s political crisis in which panelists were very critical of the authoritarian ruler.
Secret service agents from the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency were dispatched to Terenga FM and Hill Top Radio stations to enforce the order, according to reports from Banjul.
No official reason has been forwarded by authorities for the closures.
It is the third time that Teranga FM has been closed and the second for Hill Top radio, formerly Yiriwa FM.
Teranga FM has been closed for broadcasting news in local languages to listeners and its manager, Alhagie Ceesay was arrested and prosecuted on seditious charges. Ceesay has been sentenced in absentia, but escaped from custody and now in exile. Yiriwa FM Manager Pa Modou Bojang was also arrested by Gambian authorities and now in exile in the UK.
President Yahya Jammeh suffered an election defeat in the hands of Adama Barrow last month. Jammeh had first accepted defeat but made a political flip-flop refusing to step down.
Amnesty International’s Sabrina Mahtani said Jammeh’s rejection of the results risks instability and repression. Mahtani says the right to freedom of expression must be upheld.
Since Jammeh’s shocking poll defeat, radio stations in The Gambia, which were known for only playing music and sports programs started political reporting, an indication that the strongman has lost grip of power.
“The radio stations are being widely listened to,” said Saikou Jammeh, Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union, and “taking advantage of the unique opportunities the radio offers for people to get news and debates of the political situation anytime, anywhere and even in local languages.”
Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh may be going after such radio station to subdue them as his battles to hold on to power and regain his lost popularity.
Gambia’s media laws have been repressive. It gave rise to online radio stations and newspapers in the diaspora that are very critical of Mr. Jammeh and exposed his government’s corruption and rights abuses.
Gambian authorities stifle media freedom through a combination of criminal prosecutions, physical intimidation, censorship, and the promotion of government views in state-run or friendly private outlets. The government has ignored regional court decisions ordering it to end impunity for past crimes against journalists.
(Reporting by Alhagie Jobe, Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting from Freedom House)