Standard’s Editor Gives Account of a Repressive Growth Against Journalist
Lamin Cham, the editor-in-chief of Standard newspaper, yesterday, 8 July, 2019 testified before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), chaired by Dr. Lamin J. Sise.
Lamin Cham, born on 27 April, 1965 in Kolior village in the Lower River Region attended London School of Journalism at Bush House in the United Kingdom.
He joined the Daily Observer in 1992 and was editor-in-chief between April 2003 and October, 2005. He was also a sports editor, freelance sports reporter for GRTS and the BBC.
Lamin Cham told the Commission the role of journalist is to serve as watchdog of the society, saying journalists are the eyes and ears of the public. He added that journalists are agents of communication between the government and those who are governed.
Mr. Cham disclosed that before the 1994 coup, the press was relatively free in the Gambia compared with the Jammeh era, disclosing that the first most serious adversary against the press was the Daily Observer by the AFPRC junta.
He revealed that the junta relied on the Daily Observer for information at the time before the advent of television station in the country.
He further revealed that Jammeh called journalists illegitimate sons of Africa and he cited an instance where Sana Sabally came to Daily Observer premises in a convoy and military officers occupied every nook and cranny of the company and he requested to see the proprietor and editor-in chief, Kenneth Best.
Mr. Cham told the Commission a publication in one of the editions of Daily Observer, when the juntas published a list of parliamentarians who they alleged had taken loans and the reaction of Manjanko Samusa, an opposition parliamentarian refuting the AFPRC claims.
The witness disclosed that in October, 1994, Kenneth Best was first arrested and detained in a secret location in Kartong and was deported in November, 1994.
He told the Commission how the AFPRC posted immigration officials to Daily Observer premises to screen foreign journalists and he mentioned a number of individuals that were arrested and deported.
He mentioned journalists like Ellicot Seade, Chikeluba Kenechukwu, Rodney Shea who were deported and journalists like Justice Fofana, Alieu Badara Sherrif who left the country.
Lamin Cham told the Commission that in May, 1999, he received information that Daily Observer had been sold to Amadou Samba who was believed to be a close ally of the junta. He revealed that the editor-in-chief, Baba Galleh Jallow resigned on principle that he couldn’t work with the Daily Observer and he left and established the Independent newspaper.
Lamin Cham disclosed that editorial did all the best to maintain the independence of the paper but the juntas were not happy with the likes of Demba A. Jawo who was very critical of the junta and he eventually got sacked in 1999.
He told the Commission that the then managing director, Sarian Ceesay was removed and replaced by Buba Baldeh and the Daily Observer experienced direct interference on the editorial. He told the Commission that Buba Baldeh was cautioned that the Daily Observer would not carry stories from the opposition like stories from Lamin Waa Juwara, who was the propaganda secretary of the UDP.
He said Jammeh and some civil servants expressed hatred for journalists and that Jammeh never believed that journalists have a role to play in good governance. Mr. Cham told the Commission that journalism was the most oppressed profession under Jammeh regime, adding that the killing of Deyda Hydara in December, 2004 was the turning point in journalism in the Gambia.
Lamin Cham disclosed that he was arrested on the 30 May, 2006 in Serekunda and taken to the Police headquarters in Banjul and then to the NIA headquarters in Banjul.
He said he was questioned as to his relationship with Pa Nderry M’bai and the freedom online Newspaper at the NIA conference room after he had been beaten and tortured by 8 soldiers led by Tumbul Tamba and Musa Jammeh alias Malianmungo.
Lamin Cham told the Commission that he had sustained injuries all over his body and was bleeding profusely. He said the deputy director of NIA, Mohammed Hydara told him to cooperate with them or else the men would come back for him.
He revealed that he met journalist like Malick Mboob, Lamin Fatty, Honourable Duto Kammasso, (APRC) Member of Parliament at the NIA headquarters.
He stated that Tumbul Tamba had told him that Ebrima Sillah, current minster of Information and Communication, the then BBC correspondent and he were the principal suspects for sending information outside The Gambia.
Lamin Cham told the Commission that the effect of his arrest and detention was devastating, noting that he had fear to stay in the country and decided to leave the country.
Lamin Cham revealed that he returned to the country in 2012 and enjoined the current leadership in the country that never again should journalists be subjected to arrest and detention.
“No Lamin Cham would be sent to the NIA, No Deyda Hydara would be killed, No Chief Manneh would disappear and I thank my colleagues in the profession for standing their ground and believing in the principles of the profession,” he declared.