U.S.-based journalist charged with sedition in Gambia

New York, April 4, 2007—A court in the capital Banjul today handed down criminal charges to a U.S.-based journalist, detained since last week by state intelligence agents, and released her on bail in connection with critical commentary of President Yahya Jammeh, according to local journalists.

Political commentator Fatou Jaw Manneh of the U.S.-based opposition news Web site All-Gambian.net was charged with three counts of sedition under Gambia’s Criminal Code, defense lawyer Lamin Jobateh told CPJ. Each count carries a prison term of two years, a fine, or both, he said. She was released on bail of 25,000 dalasis (US$950), but was ordered to surrender her travel documents, he said. The trial was remanded to April 11.

The charges were linked to a June 2004 interview given to the now-defunct private bi-weekly The Independent in which Manneh severely criticized Jammeh and his government, according to CPJ research. “Jammeh is tearing our beloved country in shreds…He is a bundle of terror…Gambians are desperately in need of an alternative to this egoistic frosty imam…,” she was quoted as saying. The interview was later published on several Web sites, including All-Gambian.net.

“Fatou Jaw Manneh’s week-long detention without charge violated her basic due process rights under Gambian laws. Now these charges criminalize a commentator for expressing her views on issues of public interest,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to drop these charges.”

The ruling came two days after a group of local journalists, led by award-winning President of the Gambia Press Union Madi Ceesay, visited the offices of Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where Manneh was being held, according to news reports and local journalists. The NIA is under direct command of the President.

Manneh was returning to the Gambia to attend the funeral of her father when she was arrested at the airport, local journalists told CPJ.