A Gambian sports journalist Baboucarr Nani Sey says he is a victim of state persecution, harassment, and oppression. Mr. Sey, who was held for three nights by the Gambian police, was accused of organizing a protest march without permit, wishful damage to property among other felonious charges. Mr. Sey, in an interview with Freedom Radio Gambia, on Monday, debunked the police charges—describing it as not only trumped up, but frivolous as well.
Mr. Sey works as a sports journalist with the privately-owned Paradise FM radio station. He is a native of Kololi, but he lives in Kanifing.
It was on March 15th, when Mr. Sey decided to organize a press conference—with the objective of dozing off the tensions surrounding a disputed piece of land that was given to Saul Frazier, a close associate of president Adama Barrow by the former government of dictator Yahya Jammeh. It is alleged that the land, which is situated at a football field in Kololi, was sold to Mr. Frazier and his Indian business partners for D20 million dalasi.
The Kololi villagers—more importantly the youths, have repeatedly demanded that the said piece of land should be reserved for community oriented developmental projects than to allocate it to Mr. Frazier for commercial ventures. The village doesn’t have a hospital or market of its own; hence Mr. Sey said the villagers have been pleading to the relevant authorities to spare the land.
Baboucarr Sey, 26 years of age, is the first Gambian journalist to be arrested by president Adama Barrow’s government. This was the president, who promised to end the culture of media harassment, and false imprisonment, when he ascended into the presidency sometime in December, of 2016.
Over the weekend, two Gambian journalists have been questioned by police. First to be detained was Mr. Babucarr Nani Sey, who was held in a mosquitoes infested cells at the Serre-Kunda and Kanifing police stations respectively.
Sanna Camara, a Point Newspaper reporter, was also invited for questioning by the Kairaba police to explain his alleged role or possible knowledge in the leaking of a state document published by the Freedom Newspaper. Camara was interrogated and released the same day. This was during the weekend—on Saturday.
Narrating his ordeal, Mr. Sey said he was first booked at the Serre-kunda police station, where he was confronted by OC Fofona, and OC Mbye. He was informed by OC Fofona that he was wanted by the police in connection with a protest march he organized in Kololi, without permit. Fofona even showed journalist Sey, a YouTube video, purportedly containing the alleged protest march.
Mr. Sey maintains that the video in question was the press conference he held in Koili, in which Mamos TV, a Norwegian owned Gambian TV, the state media GRTS TV and other media houses were present at the press conference. He vehemently denied organizing any protest as alleged by the police. OC Fofona and co informed him they received orders from the “top” to investigate him on his role in organizing the protest that never was.
Police also wanted Mr. Sey to help them identify the people, who demolished a fence wall that was erected by the president’s close associate Saul Frazier and his Indian business partners at the said disputed land. Mr. Sey said he told the police that he doesn’t know the people behind the incident.
“That was one of the reasons, why I organized the press conference. I wanted to reach out to the people of Kololi, particularly the youths to keep the peace and avoid any form of vandalization of the structures built at the disputed land. I told the police that I do not know the people behind the demolition of the wall. Now, they have decided to charge me for the demolition of the said wall belonging to a close associate of the president Adama Barrow, Saul Frazier. I was told that he was appointed Ambassador at large by the president,” said Mr. Sey.
“My actions were in line with the law. I never broke any law. I even contacted Baboucarr Senghore of GRTS TV to ask him if he could cover the press conference. He dispatched one of his reporters Momodou Jallow to the press conference. The press conference was covered by GRTS’s Momodou Jallow. Jallow told me that he couldn’t air the press conference, because he needed to get the other people mentioned in the story their own version of what transpired. Mamos TV also covered my press conference. The YouTube video OC Fofona, showed me, was the coverage of Mamos TV of my press conference. He said there were people at the gathering holding banners; hence they categorized my press conference as a protest. I never organized a protest,” Sey insisted.
Mr. Sey opines that the government should engage the people of Kololi and the people associated with the disputed land than resorting to actions that might further polarize the community. He observed that it is only peaceful mediation that the matter can be resolved and not force.
Mr. Sey was released on police bail in the sum of D100,000 dalasis, or the value of a landed property situated in the Greater Banjul area. He was asked to report to the police the next day. He met Ambassador Saul Frazier’s Indian business partners, when he reported to the Kanifing police station. The Indians have since filed a statement with the police. They owned the Swami India company.
“I am a victim of state persecution. I was just a mere messenger of peace, and now I have been falsely charged by the police. I haven’t done anything to warrant my arrest and subsequent trumped up charges. This was not what we envisaged, when Barrow came to power. We wanted a Gambia, in which the rule of law will prevail. Someone out there is using his influence to dictate my arrest and prosecution. This is totally unacceptable. It defeats the true spirit of democracy, rule of law and good governance,” he said.
Mr. Sey was forced into exile during Gambia’s long month political impasse. Agents of dictator Yahya Jammeh’s NIA, wanted to arrest him, and fled to neighboring Senegal.
“We were all happy when Barrow took over the presidency. I am a victim of the former regime. I spent the last days of Jammeh’s rule in exile. I refused to toe the dictator’s line as a journalist; hence I was targeted for persecution. In this new Gambia, I happen to be the first journalist to be arrested. This is really sad,” he said adding that Barrow’s government should avoid making schoolboy errors.
Reacting to the story, Neneh Bojang, a Gambian based in Norway, who also works with Mamos TV said: “Good evening Pa, Ramadan Mubarak. Hope all is great with the Family. MAMOSTV has the following statement with regards to the Baboucarr Sey case. We at MAMOSTV are deeply saddened by the Baboucarr Sey case. MAMOSTV reported the peaceful protest but the footage on YouTube is not loaded or owned by MAMOSTV, the MAMOSTV mic flag is seen in the uptake of the video being referred to but the YouTube video is loaded by one FSL YaramBamba, who is not a staff of MAMOSTV .The update made by the staff of MAMOSTV Gambia can be viewed on Our official Facebook Page or the website. We hope that this clears the air and that Baboucarr’s case ends peacefully.”
Written By Pa Nderry M”Bai