‘The New Government Must Protect the Freedom of the Press’ - Alhagie Mbye

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Point’s London-based Europe correspondent for over a decade has stressed the need for the new government to not only protect the rights and freedoms of the Press in The Gambia, but also to bring to book those who killed, tortured and humiliated journalists for merely informing and educating the public.

Mbye, who had worked for the Daily Observer during the early years of the coup that brought Yahya Jammeh to power, later became the most senior reporter at The Independent Newspaper headed by Dr Baba Galleh Jallow and Alagie Yorro Jallow.

He was also an international correspondent for The West Magazine based in London.

However, reporting on sensitive issues such as human rights, the rule of law, voter registration fraud, corruption, the blood diamond, naked injustice, the Kanilai Futampaf where a dysentery outbreak was reported and confirmed by the Medical Department, he became a target of the defunct National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

Later Mbye suffered personal attacks at his home, constant harassment, arrest and detention in isolation and was brutally tortured by the agency resulting in medical treatment both in The Gambia and in the UK.

Mbye’s detention later ended in court when the NIA refused to present him before any court of law or disclosed where he was kept.

“If I could recall, it was only in my trial that the NIA through a senior state lawyer ever admitted in court that I was kept under their custody and was tortured… prompting the then senior judge named Justice Belgore describing the agency as the German Gestapo,” Mbye said.

Immediately after the court proceedings, Mbye revealed to Gambians, the International press and the world how he was imprisoned and tortured. He disclosed the names of all agents and officials involved such as Demba Ceesay, Wassa Gassama and Babou Njie. Supervisors were the then Director General Abdoulaye Kujabi, with senior officials such as Tijan Bah and Sukuta Jammeh.

‘These men who were involved during those awful times and days torturing me using life cables, laughing and electrocuting me, cannot keep walking freely in the streets of Banjul and expect a closure’.

Mbye who obtained a law degree in the UK stressed that The UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) article 1 ‘properly defines torture and clearly prohibits such practices’.

He added that The Court of Human Rights has also given a general defining description of Torture and of what makes treatment or punishment ‘inhuman or degrading’.

The leading case, he added, is Ireland v UK, adding that it further ruled that treatment which violates ‘Article 3 cannot be justified in terms of public benefit’ and in both Balogh v Hungary; Ahmed v Austria; ‘ill treatment cannot be lawfully justified by reference to some greater social good that may be achieved’.

Mbye continued: ‘Obviously the deliberate inhuman treatment causing serious and cruel suffering is torture…and consequently, where officers tortured people like me or intentionally subject them to other degree of ill treatment, the State is responsible to see to it that justice prevails’.

Mbye said the Gambia Press Union (GPU) should be supported and protected fully. ‘Many of my colleagues had suffered tremendous injustice and had to flee their homeland, and now it is time that any form of discrimination and prejudice against the press is stopped’.

He emphasised that the case of journalists like late Deyda Hydara and Chief Manneh cannot be swept under the carpet.

However, he added: ‘I am optimistic now, especially when respected journalist Demba Ali Jawo is appointed by the coalition as Minister of Information, Communication and Technology’.

Mbye said that he has high regards for President Barrow and other coalition members, who are respected and cherished members of the public. They also suffered untold suffering as opposition politicians in a very hostile environment.

It was one of the reasons why he came to attend this year’s Independence Celebration as a sign of respect.

Mbye noted: ‘I had interviewed them over the years, covered their press conferences, political meetings and rallies both in the urban and rural areas and had a professional relationship with them…But now they must unite because unity is their strength, and that is what the voters expect from them…It is for the benefit for all and sundry or else our ambition for democracy and free society where everyone is equal will be in vain’.

Mbye said that Journalists he met, both here and abroad, wish to contribute their quota to national development without bias, and further improve their CV in that regard.

It was one of the reasons why when he relocated to the UK, where he was able to use his experience as a journalist in The Gambia combined with previous training he acquired in Accra, Ghana, and Lagos, Nigeria to pursue his desire to collaborate and work with the press.

 ‘After finishing my studies in journalism (Newspaper, Radio and TV), I became a recognised member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and had attended meetings, courses and training courses in London, Birmingham and Manchester… Then I was able to successfully complete the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoIA 2000) Course at the Arthur House’.

Explaining why he switched to law, Mbye explained that it was ‘due to my prime concern and interest in legal Issues. I then proceeded to university to study Law. After successfully obtaining an LLB Honours Degree, my enrollment was granted by the UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Later, I was invited by the UK’s Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) to undertake a Competency Assessment Programme Course in order to be a Legal Adviser’.

Mbye also emphasised strongly that we must embolden our great institutions such as GAMTEL, GRA, the Energy and Tourism industries, as well as other private sector institutions, especially the construction companies like TAF Holdings, for ‘exposing the significance, talent and capability of the country to the outside world’.

Despite all the upheavals, Mbye added: ‘I personally appreciate the tremendous support of the International Community, especially the UN, EU and the United States as well as the AU and ECOWAS for a tremendous support. International Press Groups and Human Rights Associations such as Amnesty International should be highly commended’.

However, one of the most urgent and important proposals to be considered by the coalition, according to Mbye, is by ‘strengthening our bilateral ties with Senegal, and if possible reviewing the Senegambia Confederation as soon as possible’.

He concluded: ‘I personally witnessed how Senegal supported the Gambian refugees as family members…After all Gambia is Senegal and Senegal is Gambia’.