Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the seven journalists, all members of the Gambia Press Union, who are being tried for criticising President Yahya Jammeh. The verdict in the trial, held partly behind closed doors, could be issued today, just a week after Jammeh said outspoken journalists would be dealt with “severely.”
“The press freedom situation in Gambia is the most serious by far in all of West Africa,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Repressive legislation, arbitrary arrests and generalised fear – nothing is spared the country’s few independent journalists. Daring to express an opinion or criticise the authorities is immediately regarded by the government as an attempt to besmirch the country’s image.”
A participant in last week’s demonstrations in the United States to condemn Gambia’s human rights violations, Reporters Without Borders added: “It is about time President Jammeh’s repeated provocative comments were condemned by the international institutions to which Gambia belongs. We express our unwavering support for the courageous journalists who continue to work in such a hostile environment and we call for the acquittal of the GPU members.”
The seven GPU journalists have been tried on charges of defamation and “seditious publication” before the Banjul high court. Originally assigned to Justice Joseph Wowo, the case was transferred to Judge Emmanuel Fangbele at the request of the defence lawyers. The journalists have had two spells in Banjul’s Mile Two prison since mid-June but are currently free on bail. See this release
The defendants include Pap Saine, the editor of the independent newspaper The Point, who is also accused of disseminating false information in case dating back to March in which he was initially acquitted.
President Jammeh warned journalists against “tarnishing the country’s image” in an interview for state-owned GRTS on 22 July, the 15th anniversary of the coup that brought him to power. “Any journalist who thinks that he or she can write whatever he or she wants, and go free, is making a big mistake,” he said. “If anybody is caught, he will be severely dealt with.”
Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) participated in demonstrations organised by Amnesty International outside the Gambian embassy in Washington and the UN secretariat in New York on 21 and 22 July to protest against the regime’s human rights violations including its arrests of journalists.
The Gambian government calls the 22 July anniversary “Freedom Day.”
The 2004 murder of The Point editor Deyda Hydara (who was also the Reporters Without Borders Gambia correspondent) and the disappearance of reporter "Chief" Ebrima Manneh of The Daily Observer following his arrest on 7 July 2006 are the two most serious press freedom violations of the past five years.
The authorities have always refused to carry out a proper investigation into Hydara’s death and deny ever arresting Manneh although several witnesses say the saw him in Mile Two prison before he was taken away to an unknown location.