Gambia’s new President Adama Barrow has declared that journalists in the West African nation are free to do their job after decades of censorship.
The Gambia’s new leadership is guaranteeing freedom of the press and would move to repeal restrictive media laws put in place by the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh’s regime stifled media freedom through a combination of criminal prosecutions, physical intimidation, censorship, and the promotion of government views in state-run or friendly private outlets, according to Freedom House.
It has ignored the regional ECOWAS court decisions ordering it to end impunity for past crimes against journalists.
Gambian courts fail to address government abuses of journalists and an indemnity act prevents the prosecution of Gambian authorities, discouraging journalists from seeking justice.
The death of journalists Deyda Hydara remains unresolved and the family of Ebrima Manneh, who had disappeared since 2006 says he’s been killed after being tortured.
Licenses for newspapers and radio stations have been revoked.
Jammeh’s ordered the closure of four stations just weeks before he was forced into exile, including Teranga FM, the station whose manager, Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay was arrested in 2015 and tortured. Ceesay later escaped custody.
UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment found that there was a “state practice of intimidation and serious threats (including death threats) to the physical integrity of journalists and human rights defenders that amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or even torture.”
Other human rights reports found that Gambian journalists have been subject to torture by the Jungulars, a government-backed paramilitary force.
The Gambia is listed not press free. A law passed in 2013 to introduced a 15-year jail term and a fine of 3 million dalasi ($77,000) for anyone using the internet to spread false news or make derogatory statements, incite dissatisfaction, or instigate violence against the government or public officials.
Gambian journalists in neighboring Senegal are returning to the small country with a population of fewer than two million people. To them returning back to a New Gambia and reuniting with their family is so surreal.
(Reporting and writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting from Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch)