Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gambian 'spy' journalist missing

Gambian journalist Yaya Dampha, briefly detained earlier this month with two Amnesty International researchers on suspicion of spying, is missing.

He is believed to have gone into hiding but Amnesty says it is concerned about the safety of his family.

Sources told the International Federation of Journalists that the authorities had searched the reporter's home and interrogated his wife.

The Gambia has come in for criticism for its harassment of journalists.

Mr Dampha was detained with two Amnesty delegates on 6 October after they went to meet detained opposition leader Ousman Jatta.

The three were arrested on suspicion of spying but were freed without charge.

President Yahya Jammeh President Jammeh is accused of a media crackdown

Media under pressure

Mr Dampha is a journalist with the bi-weekly newspaper Foroyaa, described by the Media Foundation for West Africa as a "Banjul-based pro-opposition newspaper".

"Amnesty has been in touch with Mr Dampha and according to our information he is safe," Erwin van der Borght, director of Amnesty International's Africa programme, told the BBC News website.

"But we are concerned about the reported visits to his home and his wife and fear his family may be at risk," he said.

The International Federation of Journalists said it deplored "these acts of intimidation meted out to journalists in The Gambia by the state security agents".

"Over the past few years there have been numerous arbitrary arrests and forced detentions of Gambian journalists, who continued to work under enormous pressure from the state," IFJ's Gabriel Baglo said in a statement.

Mr Dampha had accompanied Amnesty delegates Tania Bernath and Ayodele Ameen to meet Mr Jatta, who had been held for 387 days without trial before being sent home in September this year.

The two Amnesty staffers were in Gambia with the knowledge of the government to research allegations of human rights violations and to hold workshops for rights workers and journalists.

After the three were released from detention, Amnesty had urged the Gambian government to ensure Mr Dampha would not be targeted because of his association with the human rights organisation.

President Yahya Jammeh came to power through a coup 13 years ago but amid claims of plots to oust him, dozens of people have been arrested and unlawfully detained.

Eleven journalists were jailed for extended periods in 2006.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Gambian 'spy' journalist missing