International PEN welcomes the September 3, 2009 release of the six Gambian journalists who were given a two-year prison sentence last month for sedition and defamation after they criticized President Yahya Jammeh. All six were freed following a presidential pardon, having served a month of their sentence.

Background Information

On September 3, Emil Touray, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, 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 released from Jeshwang and Mile Two prisons following a presidential pardon announced on state television that evening.

President Jammeh said the pardon was in line with the spirit of Ramadan, which encourages Muslims to forgive each other. However, the next day, he was quoted as saying that the media should “desist from being seditious and remember they are accountable.” 

The six journalists were each sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 250,000 dalasis (around US$10,000) for sedition and defamation on August 6, 2009. The charges stemmed from The Point and Foroyaa’s publication on June 11 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 8 interview, Jammeh had 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 22 TV interview where he referred to them as “rat pieces” hiding behind “so-called press freedom” whom the state would “prosecute to the letter.”  

Saine has reportedly suffered from poor health in prison, while Jabbi-Dibba’s baby son was taken from her in prison.

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