Two private broadcast stations: Teranga FM and Hilltop Radio, located near Banjul, the Gambia’s capital, were on Sunday shut down by the country’s security forces, according to the country’s main journalists’ union on Monday.
It was not immediately clear why the two stations were targeted by Jammeh, under whose the media has come under regular attack, rights campaigners say, but Teranga FM, popular for its review of newspapers in the local wolof and mandinka languages, has been closed four times in recent years.
But the action is coming amid an escalating political crisis caused by President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to accept his election defeat after a 22-year authoritarian rule.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, initially conceded defeat to opposition rival Adama Barrow, has called for fresh elections even while he is expected to hand over this month, drawing condemnation from local opponents and foreign powers.
The veteran leaders’ refusal to step down has opened up the possibility of a military intervention by West African forces after the ECOWAS body said it was putting military forces on alert.
Jammeh calls that a “declaration of war” against a sovereign state that is not at war with itself.
As Emil Touray, head of the Gambia Press Union, told Reuters, Teranga’s headquarters were shut down by a police officer and four members of the National Intelligence Agency.
A government spokesman would however not confirm the closures.
The station’s managing director Alagie Ceesay was arrested in July, 2015, and charged with sedition. He was hospitalized twice in early 2016 while still in detention, Amnesty International said, and later fled to neighbouring Senegal.
“It is a slap in the face of the country’s democratic process,” said Touray. “People will not have access to information in this critical period of our history.”
Barrow’s election victory was seen as a surprising triumph for democracy in Gambia, which gained independence from Britain in 1965 but has since had only two presidents. But the elation seen on the streets of Banjul in the days after Barrow’s victory was quickly extinguished by Jammeh’s defiant stance.