“Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas without fear or interference”- Unknown.
Throughout the world journalists, bloggers, media organizations and others are seen facing harassment and imprisonment for exercising their right to free speech.
A recent one is a crackdown by authorities in Gambia, where the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh has ordered the closure of several private radio stations in an effort to muzzle the media ahead of the end of his mandate on 19 January.
The long-time president was defeated by opposition candidate Adama Barrow in the 1 December presidential election, but reversed his position on 9 December and rejected the election results. Gambia’s Electoral Commission chairman, Alieu Momar Njai, fled the country when he received threats after declaring Jammeh the loser, Reuters reported on 3 January, quoting a family member and a colleague.
There have been increasing signs that, in an attempt to stay in power, Jammeh closed down three private radios, including Teranga FM and Hilltop radio, without giving any explanation. Local reports state that the president sent the security forces he controls to stop the programmes on Sunday (1 January).
Teranga FM is a very popular radio station in the small country where most of the population of only two million does not have access to print media, either because they cannot read other languages than their local ones, or due to a lack of resources. Teranga FM, for instance, acts as a relay for press reviews in local languages, and was previously closed several times for its work.
Its radio manager, Alagie Ceesay, who is a target of the government for broadcasting critical debates on domestic politics, was arrested in 2015 and disappeared last July. He is currently living in hiding.
The second radio to be closed, Hilltop, is an entertainment broadcast station. According to Reuters, Afri Radio is the third radio to have suffered the same fate.
Cracking down on dissenting voices, the opposition and the media has marked Jammeh’s 22 years in office. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned of “the risk of rights violations” should Jammeh refuse to agree to step down any longer. “In his attempt to stay in power, Jammeh, and the security forces he controls, could resort to the arbitrary arrests, torture and forced disappearances against political opponents and activists,” HRW researcher Jim Wormington wrote.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which says that “Yayah Jammeh has created a climate of terror around anything remotely to do with journalism”, condemned the move as “pure censorship”, “as he (Jammeh) alone can decide to close any media outlet, he is on RSF’s list of predators of press freedom” the press watchdog said.
Ruled since 1994 by Jammeh, the West African country is ranked 145 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
While governments have never welcomed the prying eye and the biting pen of the investigative reporter, journalists have been increasingly targeted in many countries on account of their professional activities. And yet, freedom of expression is essential to the attainment of all other rights because it provides the space in which to campaign for those rights.
By cracking down on journalists and on public discourse, governments seek to restrict the flow of information and to diminish the power of the people to act upon the truth.
Another incident is the secret trial of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kalu which commenced on Monday 9th January, 2016 at the Federal High Court Abuja with some journalists prevented from entering the court premises. When asked, a security personnel at the gate explained that the journalists who were refused entrance where those without Federal High Court tags. It was observed that some journalists were, however, allowed in amid displeasure of other reporters.
Press freedom has always been a core part of Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF)’s work and is closely linked to the right to hold opinions and the right to freedom of expression. AMDF with a loud voice is saying that Press freedom and freedom of speech is not a crime; it is the rights of the journalists because they serve as a voice to the voiceless of the society.