Eyewitnesses saw him being led away. "We were in our
7, 2006, working on the next issue of the Daily Observer, when two plainclothes
officers with the Gambian National Intelligence Agency approached Chief," wrote Observer editor
and correspondent Ousman Darboe. "I knew one of the officers as a Corporal
Sey. They told Chief, a subeditor and reporter at the paper, that he was needed
at the Bakau police station for questioning. He went along voluntarily, leaving
his bag behind and saying he was confident he would be back soon."
But Ebrima Manneh, known to his friends and colleagues as "Chief," remains missing nearly three years later.
Eyewitnesses have since spotted the journalist in government custody. Manneh received treatment for high blood pressure in July 2007 at Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, according to the U.S.-based Gambian news Web site Senegambianews. This week, Agence France-Presse quoted an unnamed senior police source as saying authorities removed Manneh from Mile Two Prison at an unspecified time last year.
The same police source speculated to AFP that Manneh may no
longer be alive. But nobody--apart perhaps from government authorities-- knows for
sure. Sen. Richard
Durbin last year said on the Senate floor: "I say to President [Yahya]
Jammeh: Release this reporter. Let him return to his family." One month
before, the Community Court of
Justice of the Economic Community of West African States in
He was abducted shortly after he tried to publish in the Observer a BBC report critical of President Yahya Jammeh. But after being led away by police, Manneh was never publicly charged with a crime.
The evidence of Manneh's seizure and subsequent
disappearance form the basis of a petition filed by the group Freedom Now. The group's honorary co-chairmen are writer
and former Czech Republic President Václav Havel and South African Archbishop
Desmund M. Tutu; the organization is run by human rights experts at U.S.-based
law firms including Hogan & Hartson in
The U.N. body issues periodic rulings according to international laws, covenants, and norms including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The rulings issued by the U.N. body have no enforcement mechanism on their own.
But the "non-binding, soft law rules" issued by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions have increasing consequences, write scholars Margaret K. Winterkorn-Meikle and Freedom Now Chairman Jared M. Genser. "They establish standards of conduct, which others can then enforce through political and public relations advocacy to increase government accountability."
Freedom Now filed the petition on behalf of Manneh with the U.N. Working Group on November 4, 2008. Freedom Now lawyers expect a ruling this year.