By Yankuba Jallow
Pap Babucarr Saine, co-proprietor of The Point Newspaper has told the TRRC that despite the dawn of the new dispensation, The Gambia still has draconian media laws that threaten press and media freedom.
While testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, he called on the government of The Gambia to reduce tax on newspapers and repeal all repressive media laws to ensure freedom of the press and the media.
“The tax on the media is very high. All these should be reviewed and reduced. We are doing everything possible to fulfil our role, but the cost attached (…….)is very huge. Newspaper is the best source of information; even radio stations rely on newspapers for information,” he said.
He said: “The draconian media laws are still in place. They are still on.”
He called on the Government to pay all debts they owe to newspapers and to honour their invoices.
“As publishers, the Government should pay their debts owed to newspapers on time. When Barrow took over, I thought changes will happen. I am appealing to the Government to pay newspapers on time so that we could pay our rents and staff early. The Government should pay on time. They should help the media houses to train many journalists at the University. To ensure democracy, “Government and the media are partners; there can’t be no democracy without a vibrant press,” he said.
He said all government parastatals and agencies should pay the newspapers on time whenever they are issued invoices.
“Without money, we cannot continue with our services. There should be no six months or one-year delay because that does not help newspapers at all,” he said.
He called on the TRRC to introduce local languages in their public hearings because not all Gambians understand English. He said many people wouldn’t know what is happening at the Commission.
He said on 30th March 1995, he wrote and published a story about a prison riot and he was arrested on the same day. He added that he was detained at the Serious Crime Unit and then moved to the Major Crime Unit of the Police Headquarters, Banjul while he was supposed to travel to Cameroon for a meeting with UNESCO. He said he was arrested at a bank where he came to withdraw money for his trip to Cameroon. He said the police were asking about the source of his story about a riot at Mile II and were also telling him that the story has tendency to jeopardize the tourist season which was ‘next door’. He said on the same day, The Point was banned from printing from the National Printing (NPSC) with immediate effect. He detailed that he spent four (4) days under detention at police custody, adding that he was charged with sedition and false publication and was arraigned before the court and released on bail. He said the trial was from April to September 1995 and he was discharged and acquitted of both counts following his lawyers ‘no case submission’. His said his lawyers were Hassan B. Jallow, Lawyer Ousman Ceesay and Lawyer Abdoulie Jobe.
He said the day after his acquittal on the criminal charges, immigration officers who were led by one Saidou Camara came to The Point office and demanded that he must go with them to the Immigration headquarters. He said the case was about the security officers doubting his nationality. He said the next day, the immigration officers apologized to him and there was no court case.
“The instruction to question my nationality came from the State House,” he said.
About Deyda Hydara
He said Deyda Hydara was not only a friend to him but a brother.
“It was not a surprise for the Jammeh regime (to eliminate him to) killed him. He was writing about the regime and educating the people. His last post came two days before his murder which was his challenge to the Media Commission Bill which was enacted by the National Assembly,” he said.
“When I was told that Deyda Hydara died, I fainted,” he said.
He said he later visited the hospital.
“When I saw a pickup carrying his body, I was crying, crying,” he said.
He said Hydara was with Nyansarang Jobe and Ida Jagne in the vehicle at the time of his murder.
“Both of them sustained serious injuries and were taken to Dakar for treatment,” Saine said.
Saine said he spent 8 hours at the police, who were asking him about the issues surrounding his late friend’s untimely death.
“The questions were about my relationship with Hydara and my potential involvement in his murder,” he said.
He said the following week; he was subjected to a similar line of interrogation at the NIA by retired Captain Lamin Saine.
“I was surprised that Lamin Saine was an NIA officer because he used to come to Deyda to edit his book. A year later, he (Lamin Saine) made unfair comments about Deyda Hydara,” Pape Saine said.
He described the Jammeh’s regime’s investigation in Deyda Hydara’s murdered as ‘fake’.
He adduced that Deyda’s death may have been caused by the Good Morning Mr. President column and his challenge to the National Media Commission Bill. He said Deyda Hydara together with some other media practitioners such as Sam Sarr, Demba Ali Jawo among others were instrumental in the fight against the establishment of a National Media Commission.
He said in 2009, he was arrested for publishing an article about the arrest of a Gambian diplomat. He said the investigators insisted that the aspect of the story that indicated that the diplomat (Lamin Sanyang) was under detention at Mile II was false and therefore, he was charged with false publication.
“When they released the diplomat, my charges were dropped,” he said.
He said on the 2nd March 2009, he was charged with obtaining Gambian documents without proof; the case was about about his nationality. He added that Ensa Badjie, the then Inspector General of Police stressed that he should be jailed by all means. He said Badjie called on all prospective witnesses to the case telling them to ensure that they give testimonies that will convict him on the charge. He said on 15th June 2009, he was acquitted and discharged on the charge and it was the same day he was arrested in relation to a GPU press release.
He said he was arrested and detained together with Sam Sarr (Foroyaa), Pa Modou Faal (ex-Treasurer of the GPU and ex-sub-editor of the Point), Bai Emil Touray (ex-Secretary-General GPU), Sarata Jabbie, Abubacar Saidykhan (ex-Foroyaa reporter) and Ebrima Sawaneh (ex-editor of the Point).
He said the investigators told them that the release by the GPU is suggesting that the President murdered Dayda Hydara. He said while at the NIA, they were not put in a cell but were held in open place adding he couldn’t sleep for three nights because he feared that the Jammeh’s torture squadron dubbed ‘the junglers’ may come for them any moment. He said his email address was opened without his consent and the investigators went through his conversations.
“I was not tortured or maltreated but suffered from psychological trauma,” he said.
He said they spent four days at the NIA and were arraigned before the Kanifing Magistrates Court on charges of sedition and false publication. He said the trial Magistrate was Sainabou Wadda-Cisse who remanded them at Mile II. He said on the following Monday, the trial magistrate granted them bail on the same day, and the matter was transferred to the High Court before Justice Joseph Wowo who revoked the bail by the lower court and granted them with bail with stiffed bail conditions. He said the High Court convicted them on both counts and they were taken to the Jeshwang Prisons adding that they were pardoned by ex-President Yahya Jammeh.
He said he had undergone two heart surgeries in the UK because his heart beats slowly.
About Pap Saine
He was born on the 4th October 1950 in Banjul. He attended his primary, junior and high school education in Senegal and after completing his schooling, he returned to The Gambia.
He began his journalism career with Radio Syd from 1970 to 1992 which was the first private radio station in Africa. He was doing a musical programme, advertisement, announcement in both English and French. He said he was the correspondent for Reuters with the help of Deyda Hydara, his late friend from 1986 until now. He said he was responsible for Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea Bissau in addition to The Gambia. He said he was a founding member of The Gambia Press Union (GPU) which was formed November 1978 and registered in April 1979. He said he was working with the Senegambia Sun which was formed to promote the Senegambia Confederation and after the dissolution of the Confederation, the paper collapsed. He said he had also worked with the Topic Magazine which was owned by Nana Grey-Johnson in 1990. He said he also worked with the Gambia News Bulletin. He said he was a contributor at the Radio Gambia, West Coast Radio and others. He said he has covered African Cup of Nations several times and the World Cup thrice.
“Sports, in general, is my hobby and is my life,” he said.
He said The Point was established on December 16, 1991 which was the birthday of the widow of Deyda Hydara. He said the Point was founded by himself, Dayda Hydara and Babucar Gaye.