(Adds third radio station closure)
By Edward McAllister
DAKAR Jan 2 Gambian security agents closed
three private radio stations near the capital, Banjul, amid an
escalating political crisis triggered by President Yahya
Jammeh's refusal to accept his election defeat.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, initially conceded
defeat to opposition rival Adama Barrow in the Dec. 1 vote, but
then called for a fresh poll, 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 called that a "declaration of war".
Emil Touray, head of the Gambia Press Union, said Teranga FM
and Hilltop Radio were closed on Sunday, while an employee at
Afri Radio, owned by Gambian phone company Africell, said its
headquarters was shut down by four intelligence agents and a
police officer on the same day.
A government spokesman initially said he could not confirm
the closures and later did not answer his phone. Touray said he
had no further details.
It was not immediately clear why the stations were targeted
by Jammeh. The authorities may have taken aim at Afri Radio
because the station announced details of Barrow's inauguration,
planned for Jan. 19, the Afri Radio journalist said.
The media has come under regular attack during Jammeh's
22-year authoritarian rule, rights campaigners say, and he has
often tried to control communications in the tiny country of 1.8
million. The internet was cut during election day, as were
international phone calls.
Teranga FM, popular for its review of newspapers in the
local wolof and mandinka languages, has been closed four times
in recent years.
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.
(Editing by Richard Lough)