Aboubacarr Saidykhan: It was unbelievable to my parents when I surfaced in my neighborhood

3 May

He fled to neighbouring Senegal after reported threats to his life, but his host country imprisonment him and threatened to have him deported. In this photo, he is being interviewed by a Senego TV on the occasion of Gambia’s independence anniversary (Photo Credit: M.S.Joof/FPI/Feb 2017)

The Gambia’s human rights record worsened in the last 22 years. Journalists and citizens critical of the government and its policies knew this all too well. They have been targeted with various forms of harassment, summary arrests, torture, jail terms, exile, enforced disappearances and even death.

On World Press Freedom Day 2017, Front Page International (FPI) features four journalists (two returning from exile and two who endured repression from within) to recount their stories.

Abubacarr Saidykhan was arrested, detained and charged with sedition for requesting a police permit to hold a peaceful demonstration against the execution of death row inmates in August 2012.

He fled to neighbouring Senegal after reported threats to his life, but his host country imprisonment him and threatened to have him deported. Read his story…

How do you feel returning home after a few years in exile?

I feel honored and safe. I have managed to spend four solid years in exile between the Countries of Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Abidjan, Serra Leone, and as well as Switzerland.

I felt safe and honored because of the joy of my immediate family. It was really an unbelievable story to my parents when I surfaced in my neighborhood. I really thanked Almighty God for having given me the opportunity to live again.

How did your family felt on your return? What did they say to you?

Members of my family were entirely shocked following the news that I was in town. It was really a thanksgiving moment to the most high God. My biological mother could not believe it. She has to go the neighborhood informing people about my safe return. We lost so many Gambians while we were in exile.

Professionally, as a journalist, what have been some of the progress you made during your stay in exile? (The positive side of being in exile)

Well, I happened to see myself in the field of broadcasting. I am now a full- time broadcaster, both for radio and television. I worked for so many different radios in Senegal and TV Stations. I attended institutions and Universities for academic studies as well, so as for me to build my English proficiency.

I also worked as a volunteer for many Human Rights Institutions in Senegal, such as, Amnesty International, Article 19, RADDHO, Freedom House, Committee to Protect Journalists, Media Foundation, etc.

I read a lot also when it comes to human interaction, and also the different aspects of society. I also conducted free evening English Language classes to many young people while in exile.

What has been the most challenging for you as an exiled journalist? (The negative side of being in exile)

Well, one of the most challenging moments for me while in exile was, when I was accused of being a terrorist in Senegal. I was further accused of having links with Al- Qaeda.

This was news to me when I saw myself, a professional journalist struggling with the Senegalese Intelligence officials to clarify who I am really. It was a surprise to me that most of our Gambian colleagues in exile can go to the level of lying against their own colleague all in the name of getting money.

This was one of the shocking moments I have ever experienced while in exile. I happen to be the victor of this particular case at the end of the day. The case has to proceed to Court for a panel of judges to hear it. I happened to defend myself in that particular case and was finally given a suspended sentence.

After spending one month seven days at the Senegalese Central Prison as they claimed to be investigating my case. I accepted it in good faith as I was alone in that fight. Now, I am waiting for the judgment of destiny, because God the supreme lord really knows what has really transpired.

Over the years, what will you say are your best moments as a journalist: Reporting for renowned media organisations? Or being interviewed by renowned media organisations on press freedom and the political situation in Gambia?

Well, one of my best moments as a journalist is when I was called by the BBC in 2014 to shed light on the abortive Coup attempt of 30th December 2014. It was a shocking story, but, I was able to explain to the BBC about the issues behind the event.

I had the opportunity also to be interviewed by Aljazeera TV, TFM, WALF TV, DSTV, RFI, RFM, ZIK FM, STAR FM, etc.

Please explain more about the media houses you reported for and the topics or about those media houses that have interviewed you and the topics of interview?

Most of them interviewed me on the political situation in The Gambia. I used to analyze the severe situations of our country under Jammeh. In other times, I gave them a synopsis of the First Republic as well, and the future of The Gambia under President Barrow.

Gambians voting in a new government has ensured your safe return, what are your hopes for the future: on press freedom, freedom of expression, good governance and democracy?

The change we all voted for that assured the coming of President Barrow is an open opportunity for us all. Well, the expectations are very high, The President of the Republic of The Gambia has already assured journalist of press freedom and good governance.

We have started seeing Gambia moving towards real democracy; where every citizen is allowed to speak his or her mind freely. We hope in God’s name not to experience anything like dictatorship again. The expectations are high, but the citizens are also here to make their own contribution for the positive development of our collective nation.

Thank you so much for your time.

  • Interview by FPI’s Modou S. Joof, Editing by FPI’s Demba Kandeh

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