By Pa Nderry M’Bai
“I feel really elevated. I’m dedicating the award to the entire journalism fraternity in the Gambia. It’s a national award. What I will tell the journalists in the Gambia, is to keep pushing the pen and be very professional in the way they do their job.” These were the words of Gambian journalist Madi Ceesay, who is currently in the United States to receive an Award from the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Mr.Ceesay who is also the President of Gambia’s main journalists body, the Gambia Press Union (GPU) will be honored together with three journalists from Colombia, Iraq and Yemen this coming Tuesday in New York. In a press statement, the media watchdog CPJ, says the journalists were honored “for having risked their lives to report the news, withstanding attacks,harassment and imprisonment.
Mr.Ceesay is the erstwhile Editor of the Independent Newspaper. The Independent which suffered fire bombs on numerous occasions was shut down by the government recently for unexplained reasons. Prior to closing the paper, its staffers were arrested and dumped in jail for months without trial. Both Mr.Ceesay, Editor-in-ChiefÂ Musa Saidykhan were held by the NIA. Another editorial staff memberÂ Makalo wasÂ also harassed and intimidated by unknown people who sent him text messages threatening to take his life.
Mr.Ceesay who arrived in this country few days ago in an interview with the Freedom Newspaper, urged Gambian journalists to remain focus and dedicated to their work. For Ceesay, he believes that African journalists are exposed to all kinds of risks, in view of the hostile nature of certain governments towards the private press. He cites the Gambia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Ghana where local journalists “are being harassed and persecuted for their work.”
Notwithstanding, Mr.Ceesay says “journalists should remain steadfast and not to allow to be intimidated.”Â As journalists he went on, we are duty bound to report the news faithfully, objectively and accurately. He says harassment of journalists is common in repressive regimes, but journalists should be brave enough to over the challenges.
Having arrested twice, during his journalistic career, Mr.Ceesay is today an editor without a Newspaper. His first arrest had to with a political violence incident between government supporters and the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) in Basse, some years ago, which left one government militant Alieu Njie dead. After spending days behind bars, Ceesay, dozen other opposition officials and supporters were charged with first degree murder. He was later cleared from the said charges, after the government decided to discontinue prosecuting him. Ceesay was at the time assigned by his former employer, the Gambia News And Report Weekly Magazine, owned by veteran journalist Suwaibou Conateh. His arrest attracted local and international outcry. Other journalists who accompanied the opposition entourage were also held by the police.
For Mr.Ceesay, the African media have a big responsibility and should ensure that stories reported are well researched, balance and fairly reported. He called on Gambian journalists both home and abroad to adhere to ethical standards at all times.
While in the United States, Mr.Ceesays and his colleagues visited other media organizations. He says the Gambian media would benefit from such a prestigious award.
Finally, the GPU President told the Freedom Newspaper that he is hopeful that the the Independent would soon hit the news stands. He saysÂ they have been engaging the government with the aim of reopening the leading paper. “I’m optimistic that the Independent will open soon. We are trying our best to see it back on the news stands.” said Mr.Ceesay.
Meanwhile, the CPJ has profiled Mr.Ceesay. Below is the full text of their report. Please read on….
Madi Ceesay is a veteran independent journalist from the Gambia who has suffered attacks and imprisonment for his work. He is also a leading press freedom activist, serving as president of the Gambia Press Union, which has spearheaded efforts to fight impunity for attacks on the press, including the unsolved December 2004 murder of prominent newspaper editor Deyda Hydara. The tense national climate was laid bare when the Press Union organized an international conference to mark the first anniversary of Hydaraâ€™s murder. Police barred journalists from the site of the murder, along a public road, and they assaulted a reporter.
In 2006, Ceesay took over as general manager of The Independent, a leading private paper that has suffered frequent official harassment and two unsolved arson attacks. In March, security forces sealed off The Independentâ€™s offices and detained staff after the paper published critical articles about a purported coup attempt. Ceesay and the paperâ€™s editor Musa Saidykhan were held for three weeks without charge by the National Intelligence Agency.
Before joining The Independent, Ceesay worked for 10 years for the respected independent weekly Gambia News and Report, first as a reporter and then as its deputy editor. He was jailed before, in 2000, while covering the opposition United Democratic Party. Ceesayâ€™s advocacy and leadership have been crucial in the Gambia, where frequent attacks, imprisonments, and other forms of harassment have made the nation one of the worst in Africa for the press.
In another development, the former President of the Gambia Press Union Demba Ali Jawo has written to Mr.Ceesay congratulating him for such an important award. Below is Jawo’s Letter.
The following message of congratulations was sent by Demba Jawo, the immediate former president of the Gambia Press Union, who has also done important and courageous work for the independent press in the Gambia and is now based in Dakar, Senegal.
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate our colleague Madi Ceesay, president of the Gambia Press Union for the great honour being bestowed on him by the CPJ. There is absolutely no doubt that Madi deserves this CPJ International Press Freedom Award for various reasons.
In the first place, Madi has been quite resilient in the face of constant intimidation and harassment. While some of his colleagues have had enough and decided to leave the country no doubt to find some respite, he has chosen to stay put and carry on the struggle. That is certainly a sterling quality that he should be commended for. Therefore, on behalf of my colleagues in The Gambia and all over the world, I say â€™Ndokalekuâ€™ Madi and I pray that this award would serve as a catalyst for more press freedom for us.
Of course, while the award is given to Madi as an individual, but it is no doubt a fitting recognition for the struggle of Gambian journalists for what we had been going through in the past several years, particularly since the enemies of press freedom resorted to violent tactics like the arson attacks on media houses and the targeting of individual journalists, culminating in the murder of our colleague Deyda Hydara in December 2004.
While I would have loved to be physically present at this award ceremony in order to give Madi all the moral support he needs, but I wish to assure him that I am here in spirit and I whole-heartedly endorse this magnanimous gesture by the CPJ. I would therefore also wish to take this opportunity to thank the CPJ for demonstrating to us that there are people outside The Gambia who are monitoring our plight and ready to render support at every available opportunity. While this award is a personal triumph for Madi, but it is also an encouragement and a clear message to all Gambian journalists that our struggle is not in vain. I have no doubt that it will also serve as an encouragement to those journalists who were on the verge of throwing in the towel.
Therefore, I would urge Madi to go back home and continue the struggle and we are all fully behind him.
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