Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Journalists in The Gambia on Tuesday urged the country's new leadership to uphold their pledge to respect media freedom after a violent public assault on a reporter by President Adama Barrow's supporters.
Kebba Jeffang, a journalist for Foroyaa newspaper, was hit, scratched and insulted at a press conference on Sunday held by ministers from three parties who joined together to form Barrow's new coalition government.
Barrow has made press freedom a pillar of his reforms since taking power this year from Yahya Jammeh, whose authoritarian 22-year rule was marked by arrests and intimidation of reporters.
"We condemn the attack on Kebba Jeffang and call on the leaders of the three political parties to take appropriate action," said Gambia Press Union (GPU) Secretary General Saikou Jammeh.
"Now is the time for (Barrow) to put words to action by publicly condemning the unwarranted conduct," said a GPU statement released later on Tuesday.
Witnesses said Jeffang was attacked for asking pointed questions to the ministers about whether their parties would continue to maintain their coalition in The Gambia's legislative elections, a thorny topic just a month before the vote.
"The journalist's only 'offence' (was) to ask questions to Ousainou Darboe and Mai Ahmad Fatty, the respective leaders of United Democratic Party (UDP) and Gambia Moral Congress (GMC)," said Amadou Bojang, who saw the attack take place.
The press union called on Fatty, who is also the interior minister, to help the police in identifying the perpetrators.
Members of UDP, GMC as well as the National Reconciliation Party -- all member parties of the coalition that brought Barrow to power -- are alleged to have taken part in the assault.
Barrow had been a member of the UDP until he resigned to stand as the coalition candidate in a December election that unseated President Jammeh from power.
He won largely because the broad backing of every Gambian opposition party except one, but it is now unclear whether the parties who joined him will run again as a coalition on April 6.
In a sign of the president's desire to lower the simmering tensions within the coalition and also with supporters of Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reconstruction and Conciliation, representatives from all major political groups signed a pact late Tuesday.
Barrow said he hoped the agreement would "encourage dialogue and cooperation", and made clear it would "restrict them from using offensive language, violence, intimidation and undue use of power for political purposes."