Six Journalists Jailed for Criticizing President
International PEN is outraged by the two-year prison sentence and heavy fines imposed on six Gambian journalists who criticized President Yahya Jammeh for making inappropriate comments about the unsolved 2004 murder of a journalist. The six journalists, who were found guilty of sedition and defamation on August 6, 2009, face a further four years in prison if they fail to pay a fine of 150,000 dalasis (US$10,000) each. PEN believes that their conviction is in flagrant violation of their right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Gambian constitution and international law, and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
On August 6, 2009, Emil Touray, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba (f), Pa Modou Fall (secretary general, vice president and treasurer of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), respectively), Pap Saine, Ebrima Sawaneh (publisher and editor of the independent daily newspaper The Point) and Sam Sarr (editor of the newspaper Foroyaa) were found guilty of six counts of sedition and defamation. They were each sentenced to two years in prison for four of the counts and a fine of 250,000 dalasis (around US$10,000) for the other two counts. If they fail to pay the fine they each face a further four years in prison.
The journalists have been jailed pending appeal and are currently being held at Mile Two Prison in the capital, Banjul. The Gambia Press Union (GPU) reportedly intends to lodge an appeal.
The charges stem from The Point's and Foroyaa’s June 11, 2009 publication of a GPU statement that criticized President Yayha Jammeh for making “inappropriate” comments on state television about the unsolved 2004 murder of The Point editor and co-founder Deyda Hydara. In a June 8th interview, Jammeh said the government investigation into Hydara's slaying had stalled and suggested that journalists who wanted to know who had killed Hydara should ask Hydara himself. The GPU statement also called on Jammeh to acknowledge his government’s responsibility for the killing, which the President had denied in another interview a few days earlier.
The trial of the six journalists was held behind closed doors, allegedly for “state security” reasons. While it was ongoing, President Jammeh threatened local journalists, including in a July 22nd TV interview in which he referred to them as “rat pieces” hiding behind “so-called press freedom” whom the state would “prosecute to the letter.”
Saine reportedly suffers from a heart condition and is in urgent need of a pacemaker. He has faced extensive legal harassment since February 2009 and is currently also on trial in another case for publishing “false information” in a January 30, 2009 article on a reshuffle of diplomatic staff.
On June 15, the six journalists, along with Foroyaa reporter Abubakar Saidykhan, were arrested by members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and detained without charge for three days at the NIA headquarters in Banjul. On June 18, they appeared in court and, without the presence of a lawyer, were charged with “seditious publication.” They were all denied bail, with the exception of Jabbi-Dibba, who is the mother of a seven-month-old baby. The other six were taken to Mile Two Prison in Banjul where they were held for another four days. On June 22 they were released on bail of 200,000 dalasis (US$7,547) each.
On July 3, the seven journalists were re-arrested and charged with “criminal defamation.” Jabbi-Dibba was again released on bail but the other six were held until July 7. Saidykhan was reportedly acquitted and released on July 28 after the court ruled that he had done nothing wrong when he attempted to photograph Sarr’s arrest.
Write A Letter
- Protesting the two-year prison sentences and heavy fines imposed on journalists Emil Touray, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Pa Modou Fall, Pap Saine, Ebrima Sawaneh and Sam Sarr for criticizing President Jammeh for making inappropriate comments about the unsolved 2004 murder of The Point editor Deyda Hydara;
- Pointing out that this conviction is a clear violation of the journalists’ right to freedom of expression under the Gambian constitution and international human rights treaties to which Gambia is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights;
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all six journalists;
- Also calling on the authorities to ensure that Saine, who reportedly suffers from a serious heart condition, receives adequate medical care while he remains imprisoned.
Send Your Letter To
President and Minister of Defense
Captain (retd.) Alhaji Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh
Office of the President
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: + 220 4227 034
Email: [email protected]
Salutation: Your Excellency
Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice
Mrs. Marie Saine Firdaus
Department of State for Justice
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: + 220 4225 352
Email: [email protected] or [email protected]
Salutation: Dear Secretary of State
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative of the Gambia in your country if possible.
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after October 7, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org