By Nelson Manneh
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) has issued a press statement condemning the arbitrary arrest of journalist Yusef Taylor, who is also called ‘Flex Dan’.
The GPU said they received official reports that on the 5th of July 2022, Yusef Taylor, a journalist who is also the Editor-in-Chief of ‘Gainako’, an Online newspaper, was arbitrarily arrested and reportedly charged with “obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty”.
According to GPU, Mr. Taylor was detained at the Senegambia Police Station for four hours after attempting to report on the latest arrest of Neneh Freda Gomez and Lamin Sey of the Medical Charity group ‘Global Home of Medical Mission’ (Global HoMM).
“Global HoMM is involved in a dispute with the Government of The Gambia over a plot of land for which the former has obtained court judgement in its favour, as being the rightful owner of the land on which Government wants to construct a hotel for the 2022 OIC Summit,” the Press Union said in a statement.
The GPU further indicated that Mr. Taylor has consistently reported on this case including fact-checking Government statements and narratives on the matter, and had found some of these claims to be “false or misleading”. He was released late Tuesday evening and said he was informed by the police that he is charged with “obstruction”.
“Taylor was arrested after police officers forcibly tried to remove him from the station’s premises (thereby assaulting him) when he tried to enquire about the detention of Global HoMM representatives Neneh Freda Gomez and Lamin Sey,” the press release stated.
The GPU said after initially trying to force him out of the station in a highhanded manner leading to the tearing of his shirt, officers of the Police Force then decided to drag Mr. Taylor into the station and locked him up in one of the cells, according to a colleague who witnessed the incident, together with a GPU Safety Officer who visited the police station where the journalist was held.
In their press statement, the GPU condemns the actions of these officers in its entirety and further express dismayed by the unfortunate never-ending trend of journalists being assaulted by security personnel especially officers of the Gambia Police Force,” GPU President Muhammed S. Bah, said.
The GPU president said the incident is reminiscent of the events of June 2020, when Ebou N. Keita was arrested, detained and later released without charge for photographing police officers arresting people protesting against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“It is also a stark reminder that while the exercise of free speech and press freedom guaranteed under the 1997 Constitution has significantly improved since 2017, more needs to be done to better protect the rights of journalists who continue to come under attack from security forces for simply carrying out their constitutional duty of holding the Government accountable,” Bah said.
The GPU called on the Gambia Police Force to exercise restraint and cease from the use of force on journalists who have a significant mandate of not only holding the Government to account, but promoting the public’s right to know, which is a fundamental aspect of freedom of expression, access to information and the promotion of democracy and good governance.
“This afternoon, July 7th 2022, Mr. Taylor informed the GPU that he was called by the police and asked to report to the same police station where he was held on Tuesday. He is also asked to report to the police tomorrow, July 8 at 1pm,” the Press Union said in their statement.
According to the GPU, the alleged offence is considered assault under Section 230 (b) of the Gambian Criminal Code which carries a two year prison term if one is found guilty.
“We call on the police to drop the charge of ‘obstruction’ against Mr. Taylor without condition and stop the continuous harassment of the journalist by asking him to be reporting to the Senegambia Police Station,” GPU Secretary General Modou S. Joof, said.
“Journalists are not the enemy of the state and we believe that the principles of the Constitution can only be upheld when journalists are allowed to do their work without harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests,” Joof, said.
The GPU said it is committed, ready and willing to continue to engage state authorities and security sector leaders with a view to promote an enabling environment for press freedom, especially regarding the safety of journalists.