Two Amnesty International researchers and a local journalist have been arrested in Gambia.
Nigerian Ayodele Ameen and Tania Bernath, she holds U.S. and British citizenship, were taken into police custody on Saturday.
They were documenting human rights conditions in Gambia. They had entered the country legally and had informed Gambian authorities of their purpose for coming to Gambia, she said.
Amnesty spokeswoman Eliane Drakopoulos said she can confirm that two Amnesty delegates were being detained in Banjul along with a local journalist. "We've been in contact with them through a lawyer. To the extent of our knowledge, they have not been charged. We are working to clarify the situation and are actively pursuing their immediate release," she said. "It's really very worrying."
Managing editor of the opposition newspaper Foroyaa, Sam Sarr, said his reporter Yaya Dampha had been arrested at the same time as the Amnesty delegates.
Gambia, a former British colony, is a tiny sliver of land surrounded on three sides by Senegal. Its President Yahya Jammeh, who grabbed power in a 1994 coup, has become increasingly isolated and intolerant of criticism. During his presidency, the press has been the target of a series of violent attacks.
In 2004, journalist Deyda Hydara was gunned down. Reporters Without Borders called it a premeditated murder by well-organized professionals. Hydara, 58, was an outspoken opponent of repressive media laws and of Jammeh. That same year, the offices of the Independent newspaper were burned down and the home of the correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corp. was set ablaze in a suspected arson attack.
More recently, a U.N. official in Gambia was declared a "persona non grata" and ordered to leave the country after she criticized Jammeh's claim of having cured AIDS. Jammeh declared in January that he had discovered a cure for AIDS and began treating patients inside the presidential palace, using herbs and incantations.