By Nelson Manneh
Mrs Fatou Jangne-Senghore, executive director of Article 19, on Thursday told the Truth Commission that in 1999, the government wanted to introduce a National Media Commission for the media outlets to register their businesses with that body.
She said since that body was not independent, they wrote a Memorandum to the Gambia Government, and the Gambia Press Union took the Gambia Government to the Supreme Court and challenged the constitutionality of the National Media Commission Act.
She added that the government subsequently scrapped the National Media Commission.
She added: “Unfortunately, in December 2004, Deyda was killed, while the State proceeded to amend two existing laws and increased the bond on people interested in establishing newspapers and the law on defamation was made harsh.”
The witness testified that Journalists were prosecuted under the previous regime and the government at the time heavily relied on defamation and publication of false news to bar them from executing their functions. Mrs. Senghore informed the Commission that the NIA frustrated journalists and also embarked on a lot of arbitrary closure of media houses.
The Veteran Human Rights Activist recalled that in 2004, Article 19 wrote to the former head of State to investigate the brutal killing of Deyda Hydara. She said their letter to the Gambian leader also raised concern on the amendment of certain sections of the Criminal Code which made it difficult for journalists to operate freely. She testified Journalists Abdoulie John, a reporter with the Associated Press (AP), was put on constant surveillance and his passport was eventually seized by the authorities.
She said: “We facilitated his relocation to Senegal and he only came back after the change of government.”
She said they conducted legal analysis of some of the laws and shared the document with the government.
She said they used to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of Deyda Hydara every year on December 16.
She said in October 2016, she had a meeting with Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mama Fatima Singhateh regarding human rights issues in The Gambia. She said at meeting, they could not agree on anything because the political situation was tense at the time. She said former Attorney General Singhateh, told her the case of the late Ebrima Solo Sandeng was beyond her remit.
She said about 100 Journalist went into exile during the days of the Jammeh administration; adding that those people were provided assistance by her organization. She added that they did not limit the assistance they were providing to only journalists, but assisted other people by guiding them and referring them to appropriate bodies for assistance.
She said many journalists including Abdoulie Ceesay, (former Managing Director of Terenga Fm) suffered unlawful detention in different detention centers.
The witness told the commission that some of the people who went to Senegal needed a lot of medical attention because they suffered psychological trauma and sexual violence.
She added: “People accused of being Gay or lesbians also took sanctuary in Senegal for fear of their lives because many of them were targeted by the Jammeh regime.”
2016 Presidential Elections
On the role she played in the 2016 Presidential Elections, the witness revealed that Gambians both at home abroad realized that if the opposition was not united it would be difficult to uproot Yahya Jammeh from power.
She testified: “The likes of Jeagan Grey Johnson mobilized resources which enabled Gambians and opposition parties to come together and a coalition was achieved.”