International PEN protests the four-year prison sentence for “sedition’” handed to freelance journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh on August 18, 2008 for writing articles critical of the president. Although Manneh was able to avoid imprisonment by paying a hefty fine, PEN believes that her criminal conviction is in violation of her right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Gambian Constitution and international law, and therefore calls for Manneh’s acquittal.

Background Information

On August 18, after a trial that dragged on for more than 16 months, the U.S.-based freelance journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh (f) was found guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” of four counts of sedition and sentenced to four years in prison with hard labour, or a 250,000 Dalasi (approx. $12,000) fine, payable the same day. Manneh was able to raise funds to pay the fine from the Gambia Press Union and her family, thus avoiding imprisonment.

Manneh was arrested by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) officers on her arrival from the USA at the international airport in the capital Banjul on March 28, 2007. She was detained for a week, during which time she was denied access to a lawyer or her family. On April 4, 2007 Manneh was charged on three counts of sedition under Gambia’s criminal code: “intention to commit sedition,” “publication of seditious words” and “publication of false news intended to cause public fear and alarm to the Gambian public.” Manneh pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. A fourth charge, “uttering seditious words,” was added on June 20, 2007. The basis for the charges were articles by Manneh critical of the Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh.

The trial lasted well over a year, with counsels reportedly often failing to turn up in court and endless wrangling over which court should hear the case. These delays prompted speculation that the state lacked evidence for the prosecution and was trying to buy time. Manneh’s travel documents were confiscated and she has been unable to leave the Gambia.

Manneh is a contributor to the U.S.-based opposition web site, former reporter for the private Daily Observer and pro-democracy activist who had been living in exile in the United States since gaining political asylum in 1994 following the coup that brought President Jammeh to power. She is understood to have returned to the Gambia in 2007 to pay tribute to her late father.

Manneh was prosecuted for articles critical of President Jammeh, particularly an interview with her in which she accused President Jammeh of “tearing our beloved country to shreds” and called him a “bundle of terror.” The interview was first published in the now defunct bi-weekly The Independent in June 2004 and later published on several websites, including in October 2005.

In 2003 Manneh wrote an article for The Independent focusing on Gambia’s endemic poverty and corruption ("Jammeh under the Microscope") which resulted in the arrest and detention of the paper’s editor, Abdoulie Sey. The Independent was shut down by the Gambian government in March 2006 and has not been allowed to resume publication.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the four-year prison sentence imposed on Fatou Jaw Manneh for alleged "sedition;"
  • Welcoming the fact that Manneh has not been imprisoned, albeit after paying a heavy fine;
  • Calling on the Gambian authorities to acquit Manneh of this criminal conviction, which PEN believes contravenes her right to freedom of expression under the Gambian Constitution and international human rights treaties to which Gambia is a party, including the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Send Your Letter To

H. E. Yahya A. A. Jammeh
Office of the President
Private Mail Bag
State House,
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: + 220 4227 034
e-mail: [email protected]
Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice
Marie Saine Firdaus
Department of State for Justice and Attorney General's Chambers
Marina Parade
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: + 220 4225 352
Email: [email protected] or [email protected]
Salutation: Dear Secretary of State

Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union
H.E. Mr Jean Ping
P.O. Box 3243
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 3036
Email: [email protected]

Please copy your letter to the diplomatic representatives of the Gambia in your country.

Please send appeals immediately. Contact PEN if sending appeals after September 25, 2008: ftw [at]