Gambia’s opposition Foroyaa Newspaper, has been accused of censorship after the paper’s Editorial Board, allegedly refuses to publish the ordeal of their own reporter Mamour Mbenga, who was arrested and tortured by agents of The Gambian government. Mr. Mbenga, who is currently seeking medical treatment in Dakar, Senegal, was arrested in the aftermath of the April 14 protest march organized by the late Ebrima Solo Sandeng. Mr. Mbenga was among the first journalists to arrive at the scene of the opposition protest at West-field, where he interviewed Mr. Sandeng. Mr. Sandeng was later taken into custody by a PIU Deputy Commissioner, who placed him on board a taxi cab, Mr. Mbenga said.
Mr. Mamour Mbenga, was manhandled by the armed PIU officers. His camera and other journalistic materials were destroyed by the officers. Thanks to the intervention of some seminarians, he was identified as a reporter, and later let go by the officers.
Upon his arrival at the Foroyaa offices, Mr. Mbenga said he wrote his story—detailing what transpired at Westfield, and the mistreatment he suffered in the hands of the PIU officers. To his surprise, Mbenga said his story was butchered (slanted). There was no mention of the manhandling he suffered in the hands of the rogue security agents. His battered camera and journalistic gadgets also never featured in his report. The link of the piece written by Mr. Mbega, and published by the Foroyaa Newspaper, can be accessed at this link: https://www.foroyaa.gm/archives/10122
Speaking to Freedom Radio Gambia’s Sunday Leral Show, from his new home in Senegal, Mr. Mbenga said, when he protested about the slanting of his story to Sam Sarr, the Editor of the Foroyaa Newspaper, Sam did not give him any satisfactory explanation for the move, even though he said, he was assigned by Mr. Sarr to cover the opposition protest.
On April 16, 2016, Mr. Mbenga was among the journalists, who covered the press conference organized by Gambia’s opposition leader Ousainou Darboe. This was the day, Mr. Darboe and his colleagues, have decided to take to the streets to demand the body of Ebrima Sandeng, death or alive. He said he spotted the NRP leader Hamat Bah entering and leaving Darboe’s home during the period in question.
While covering the opposition procession, Mr. Mbenga said he was manhandled by the security. He was hit with a gun butt. He was also physically beaten, leaving him to suffer a fractured leg and back pain. His camera and journalistic gadgets were also seized and destroyed by the personnel of the paramilitary.
Mr. Mbenga tells Freedom Radio Gambia that his only crime was covering the opposition protest. He took pictures and videos, which never went down well with the paramilitary. A paramilitary officer then accosted him and started beating him.
According to Mr. Mbenga, who is currently facing difficulties in paying his medical bills and accommodation in Senegal, he was held for a day or so before he was released by the NIA. Upon his release from custody, he said, his Editor Sam Sarr, and Foroyaa Sports journalist Sulayman Bah visited him at his home. He explained to Sam and Bah what transpired, but to his chagrin, Mr. Mbenga said the Foroyaa Editor sat on his torture story. He said Sam proposed to him that he should see a doctor for treatment, but in view of the retaliatory nature of the autocratic Jammeh regime, Mbenga said he fears to report to the hospital—citing the possibilities of him being arrested again. Hence, he decided to nurse his pain at home.
While home nursing his pain, Mbenga said, he was hoping to see his story published by the Foroyaa Newspaper, but none of that happens. He then decided to flee the country with the hope of seeking treatment in Senegal. Mr. Mbenga got intercepted by Gambia’s security agents during the process of travelling to Senegal. He never knew that the vehicle that he boarded in the Southern Province of Casamance, was traveling via, The Gambia. He was arrested as soon as he entered The Gambia, and handed to the NIA.
While at the NIA, Mbenga said the Foroyaa Newspaper Management never visited him, or attempts to secure his release from custody. He said he was held at the NIA for some hours before he was released. This time around, he was able to leave the country unnoticed.
Mr. Mbenga is the breadwinner of his family. He helps his mom and family members from the D3, 000 dalasi basic monthly salary he received from the Foroyaa Newspaper. He graduated from school in 1992. He is also a Seaman by profession, he said.
When his mom visited the Foroyaa offices, she pleaded with the Editorial Board to help her son. Mbenga said his mom was given D3,000 dalasi on her first visit to the Foroyaa offices. She was given similar amount on her second visit.
Mr. Mbenga said Foroyaa contributed to his trip by giving him D7,000 Gambian dalasi. He expressed gratitude to the paper for the financial support extended to him, but on the same vein, Mr. Mbenga said, he is the least pleased with the management of the Foroyaa Newspaper’s failure to report his story. He felt that he was being used by the paper for their own interest. Mbenga couldn’t comprehend how come the Foroyaa Editorial Board is censoring such an important story. He said both Halifa Sallah and Sam Sarr were aware of his predicament, but the duo refused to relate his story to the world.
According to Mr. Mbenga, while on the field covering the UDP protest, he received a phone call from Halifa Sallah, who doubles as the PDOIS Leader and Foroyaa, Editorial Board Member, to leave the scene of the protest and report to the office. He said Halifa told him that there was another reporter on the ground covering the protest, and that he (Mbenga) could come back to the office. Mr. Mbenga said he decided to stay to continue covering the protest.
Mr. Mbenga tells Freedom Radio Gambia that due to the torture he suffered in the hands of the security agents, he is finding it extremely difficult to urinate and defecate. He said he sometimes urinate blood. He is therefore appealing to the public to come his aid.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mamour Mbenga is running out of budget. He said the funds he had in his possession is finished. Thanks to the magnanimity of one of his colleagues Journalist Fabakary Ceesay, he is now living on a 30,000 CFA Franc. Mr. Ceesay wired him 30,000 CFA Franc few days ago to help him cover his medical and food bills.
Mr. Fabakary Ceesay, speaking in an interview with Freedom Radio Gambia, also empathized with Mr. Mbega’s plight. He said he suffered similar fate when he flees from The Gambia some years ago. He said the Foroyaa Editors are not in the business of writing the miseries of their own reporters and staffers. He recalled businessman Lai Joof, who was accused of treason insulting him at the court house in Banjul. Foroyaa, he said, refused to publish his story. The defunct Daily News Newspaper even had to cover the story. He said there were instances he had encounters with the Gambian police, but Foroyaa wouldn’t care to highlight the persecution he suffered in the hands of Jammeh’s security agents.
According to Mr. Ceesay, Foroyaa supported his family for six months while he was away from the country, but the paper’s Editorial Board knew that he fled the country, and yet couldn’t inform the paper’s readers that he was on the run.
He also cites the case of Journalist Yahya Dampha, who was arrested with some Amnesty International officials. He said Sam Sarr, scribbled a misleading headline in an attempt to conceal the identity of Yahya Dampha from the headline. Ceesay said he even protested to Sam about the low editorial standards at the paper. He felt that it was unfair for Foroyaa to publish such an important story by omitting Yahya Dampha’s name on the headline.
Mr. Fabakary Ceesay now lives in exile in the Netherlands. He was the Foroyaa Newspaper lead Investigative Reporter. He said despite the dangerous journalistic assignments given to him by the Foroyaa Management, the paper never bothers to write about him if he is in trouble with The Gambia authorities. He said internal censorship exists at the Foroyaa Newspaper. He said journalist Saikou Ceesay, was assigned by management to cover the arrest of the former Daily Observer Managing Director Dida Halake, who was detained at the Kotu police station. Saikou was arrested during the course of investigating Dida’s arrest. He said Foroyaa again refused to write about their detained reporter.
Mr. Ceesay cites another instance in which Gambian photo journalist BT Trawally, was arrested by a soldier after he (BT) was accused of selling a bad CD disc purportedly containing pictures to an international conference delegate. He said he was personally contacted by Mr. Trawally to report the story. When he wrote the story, Halifa Sallah allegedly censored the piece. He said Halifa told him that if such a story is published, it would become an embarrassment to the country and the media fraternity. Hence, Halifa decided to censor the arrest of BT Trawally, he added.
Mr. Ceesay also said the exiled former Foroyaa reporter Abubacarr Saidykhan, also suffered similar fate. He accuses Foroyaa of refusing to report the persecution Saidykhan suffered in the hands of Gambia’s rogue security agents. Saidykhan was forced into exile, Mr. Saidykhan now lives in Dakar, Senegal.
Mr. Mbenga also expressed his utter disappointment at the Gambia Press Union (GPU) under the leadership of Emil Touray. Mr. Touray is also a staffer of the Foroyaa Newspaper. He accuses the GPU of refusing to expose his case to the world. Mbenga, said none of the Newspapers in The Gambia reported his story. He said he even contacted Reporter Bakary Ceesay, of the Voice Newspaper, to help expose his story, but Ceesay told him that he is waiting on the Foroyaa Newspaper to run the story before he writes it.
Mamour Mbenga is a brother to The Gambian activist Ousainou Mbenga. He said he contacted Ousainou Mbenga, via Facebook to explain his ordeal to him, and Mbenga promised to come to his aid. It’s been a while since he contacted Ous Mbenga, and Mbenga hasn’t come to his aid yet. Mamour said he is in desperate need of medical help.
Mr. Ousainou Mbenga lives in Washington DC. He is the leader of an Organization called the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA). He was contacted on his cell phone for comment, but he was indisposed.
Both Sam Sarr and Halifa Sallah could not be reached for comment.
Written By Pa Nderry M’Bai