A media watchdog group is calling on Gambia to release seven journalists detained this week after criticizing the nation’s president, who has ruled the tiny country since a 1994 coup.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement late Tuesday the detainees include the head of the West African nation’s press union and newspapermen who together criticized President Yahya Jammeh over the unsolved 2004 murder of local newspaper editor Deyda Hydara.

“The failure of the Gambian authorities to bring those responsible for the killing of Deyda Hydara to justice has rightly angered local journalists,” the group said. “Instead of answering journalists’ legitimate questions about this case, the authorities are locking them up. They should be released immediately.”

Jammeh’s government has been criticized for years because of its harsh treatment against the media, and many reporters have fled the country.

CPJ said Gambia’s constitution stipulates they must be released within 72 hours if no charges are brought against them.

The government did not immediately comment about the journalists, who were detained on Monday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.