Abducted Gambian journalist released after 11 days: family

The US State Department called on President Yahya Jammeh to release all prisoners held unlawfully without charge (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo)

BANJUL (Gambia) (AFP) - A radio journalist who disappeared for more than a week in a kidnapping blamed on Gambia's secret police has been released, his family told AFP on Tuesday.

Alagie Ceesay, manager of the independent Teranga FM, disappeared outside the station's Banjul headquarters on July 2, according to press freedom campaigners.

"Alagie called us on Monday night around 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) asking us to go and pick him up around Banjul International Airport," a family member said.

Ceesay was bundled into a car by two men thought to be officers from the west African nation's feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA), according to media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

His family told AFP he had been subjected to "degrading treatment" during his 11-day ordeal but didn't go into detail.

The Gambia Press Union, which campaigns for the rights of journalists, said Ceesay had been "dumped in the streets" near the airport.

"The prolonged detention of Mr Ceesay is an infringement on his constitutional right not to be detained beyond 72 hours. His apparent mistreatment is deeply regrettable," it said in a statement.

Ceesay reportedly said he had been moved between various locations while blindfolded, but was unable to confirm that the NIA was behind his abduction.

He has not been charged or asked to report to a police station, according to a relative, who added that the journalist was to be given a medical check-up.

A source at Teranga said colleagues did not know what had happened to Ceesay but added that he had returned home "with plasters pasted on his forehead and neck".

Rights groups have likened the case to the disappearance of Gambian journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, who has been missing since he was seized by men believed to be state security agents in July 2006.

Launched in 2009, Teranga FM has been shut down three times in five years by the government, according to the Gambia Press Union.

Ceesay was arrested and questioned by police when the Gambian authorities shut the station for several days in January.

No explanation was given for the clampdown, but it followed a failed coup attempt in December against President Yahya Jammeh, who has led the country of two million since a coup in 1994 and is often accused of muzzling journalists.

Outspoken government critic Deyda Hydara, editor of the daily The Point Newspaper and a correspondent for AFP, was killed by unidentified gunmen on his way home from work on December 16, 2004.

Suspicion immediately fell on Jammeh's regime, prompting an outcry at home and abroad, but allegations against his inner circle went no further and the murder remains unsolved.