Senegal: Rights groups decry closure of radio stations, arrests in Gambia

Dakar, Senegal (PANA) - Two leading rights groups, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch have decried the closure of three private radio stations and arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters in Gambia.

In a joint statement made available to PANA in Dakar, Senegal, the two rights groups disclosed on Friday that Teranga FM, Hilltop Radio and Afri Radio were forced to go off air on 1 January  by Gambia's National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

Although Afri Radio was reopened on 3 January, it is not currently airing news-related material while the two other stations remain closed.

''The risk of a crackdown against independent and critical voices will only increase as calls for Jammeh to step down intensify prior to the January 19 deadline,'' remarked Sabrina Mahtani, West Africa researcher at AI.  

''The Gambian authorities must send a clear message that human rights abuses, including by members of the security forces, will not be tolerated and that those responsible for abuses during the transition will be adequately investigated and prosecuted.''

Given the government’s control of state television and radio, the statement pointed out, private radio stations provide an important outlet for Gambians to access dissenting views and opinions, although the security forces’ history of arresting and intimidating journalists has caused many to self-censor.

Teranga FM and Hilltop Radio were stations that discussed diverse political news in local languages.

Emil Touray, president of the Gambia Press Union, told the rights groups that the radio closures, ''denied Gambians several essential media outlets during a crucial phase in the country’s history.''

Teranga FM has been closed three times in recent years and the station's managing director, Alhagie Ceesay, was arrested in July 2015, beaten and tortured at the NIA headquarters and then charged with sedition. He escaped from custody and fled abroad in April 2016.

According to the rights groups, the NIA agents since 31 December 2016 have arrested and briefly detained at least six people for wearing or selling T-shirts bearing the logo of the #Gambiahasdecided movement, which has called for Jammeh to respect the election results and step down.

Several senior members of the movement have reportedly fled Gambia after receiving credible threats from alleged NIA officers.

''The targeting of the #Gambiahasdecided movement and the closure of private radio stations threaten the rights of Gambians to express their opposition to Jammeh’s attempt to stay in power,'' remarked Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. ''It’s at times like this that free expression is most crucial.''

However, PANA has learnt that the detained members of #Gambiahasdecided movement and those picked up for selling the T-Shirt have all been released.

The statement went on to stress that as the deadline for Jammeh to leave office and transfer power nears, the Gambian authorities and security forces should respect and protect the rights of all Gambians to freely and peacefully express their political views and opinions.

-0- PANA MLJ/AR 6Jan2016

06 january 2017 14:04:43

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