A JOURNALIST who fled torture in Gambia for Scotland now plans to return and lead the country’s media after former president Yahya Jammeh entered exile.

Jammeh initially refused to leave office after citizens voted him out in favour of rival Adama Barrow.

The 15-member Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) called for him to cede power peacefully and hundreds of troops were committed to upholding the election result before Jammeh left for exile after 22 years of government.

Barrow, who had been in Senegal for his own safety, has now crossed back over the border and promises to reinstate human rights and sign the country back up to the International Criminal Court.

However, Jammeh is accused of taking state assets including millions in cash and high-value vehicles with him and opponents accuse him of crimes against humanity.

Now Alieu Ceesay, who was forced to leave The Gambia in 2006 in the wake of detention, torture and threats from government agents, aims to help his homeland discover the extent of Jammeh’s abuses and establish a new, stronger democracy through an independent media.

The father-of-two, whose successful 2011 asylum battle was backed by the NUJ, had been accused of passing information to foreign media and institutions deemed to be enemies of the state through his work as a senior journalist and parliamentary reporter.

Now he aims to establish a national independent newspaper and radio station to investigate the country’s recent past, discover the fate of the many “disappeared” citizens and establish how Jammeh built his personal fortune.

Ceesay, who founded the UK Campaign for Human Rights in The Gambia from his adopted home, told The National: “I want to go back to contribute to the economic and social development.

“There is no shortage of journalists in the country or in the Gambian diaspora. There are very good people in the country trying their best to inform, educate and entertain the population. They were working in a very difficult environment, but the man who did that is gone. Journalists have a new found freedom.”

There are around 400 Gambian-born people living in Scotland as part of a broader Central and West African community, many of whom live in the north east of Glasgow. This includes Ceesay, whose two children are currently at primary school.

Ceesay said: “The change in The Gambia means freedom. We can now visit our country for the first time in 22 years without being arrested for speaking out against the government.

“There are so many people who are buying their tickets, maybe not in Glasgow, but in the Gambian diaspora in the UK, the United States, Scandinavia and other places.

‘LEAVING Scotland would mean leaving good friends who have contributed immensely towards the fight against human rights abuses. Scotland is one part of the UK that has contributed so much. There has been a lot of campaigning, particularly for press freedom, and that support will never be forgotten.”

Ceesay went on: “I am ambitious, I would like both a newspaper and a radio station. There is one national TV channel in The Gambia, one national radio channel. People are badly served.

“Journalists suffered so much under Jammeh, who did not like to be exposed. Now people are really happy and looking forward to the future. But there are a lot of problems.

“People want Jammeh to be prosecuted and held to justice for his human rights violations. People are very worried about his wealth, how he acquired it. There is an absolute anger about him and people want to know where their loved ones are. We haven’t got any answers.”

Ceesay’s MP Anne McLaughlin, who recently met members of Barrow’s winning United Democratic Party, has tabled a parliamentary motion congratulating his victory and wishing the country and its people “the very best for their new democratic future”.

She said: “Having worked with Gambians in Scotland for many years it is great to see The Gambia moving into a new democratic era. President Barrow’s election is a great opportunity to bring back political and civic freedoms that were lost in the Jammeh years. At a time of international instability, it is a good news story where democracy and regional co-operation have triumphed against a brutal dictator.

“As West Africa lead on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Africa, I’ll now be focusing on how we can support the institutions in The Gambia through this transitional period. There are many challenges ahead, so I will also be pressing the Foreign Office to ensure that the appropriate support is provided to tackle these.”