Tuesday, March 28, 2006Police shut down one of The Gambia's few independent newspapers, The Independent this morning. Staff were forced to vacate the office, which was then surrounded by armed guards. The Editor of the newspaper has been arrested, and is in custody at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) headquarters in Banjul, but no charges have been laid yet. Managing Editor and Publisher of The Independent, Alagi Yorro Jallow, spoke to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) from New York today, where he has been trying to gather news of his staff. He said "I'm very worried because I'm not there. They are my employees and they have committed no crime." Editor Musa Saidykhan was also detained and interrogated previously on October 27, 2005. That detention is believed to have been in connection with questions Saidykhan raised about the killing of prominent Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara. Police authorities have 72 hours before charges must be laid. Jallow, who was the winner of CJFE's 2005 International Press Freedom Award, is concerned for Saidykhan's safety. Jallow himself has experienced detentions all too often, having been arrested twelve times. He also witnessed numerous attacks against his newspaper including one in April 2004 in which several staff were wounded and the office and printing equipment owned by the paper was destroyed in an arson attack. CJFE President Arnold Amber says that "Canadian journalists who met Alagi last November have great respect for him and the brave staff of The Independent who have persevered against years of persecution by the government." Amber added that "we are outraged at the actions of the police and we urge the Gambian government to ensure that Mr. Saidykhan is released immediately and unconditionally." Although there is no word yet about the cause of the arrest and the closing of the newspaper, 27 Gambians were arrested last week over an alleged coup plot, and there are concerns that these actions may be related. The Independent has been a constant critic of government corruption. CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. For more information, contact Julie Payne at (416) 515-9622 or send an e-mail.
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