CPJ urges Gambia to abide by ruling, free Ebrima Manneh

New York, June 6, 2008—CPJ applauds a regional court’s ruling on Thursday declaring the 2006 arrest of Gambian journalist “Chief” Ebrima Manneh to be illegal and ordering his immediate release.

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States also ordered the Gambian government to pay US$100,000 in damages to Manneh’s family, according to Funmi Falana, one of the prosecution lawyers. The Media Foundation for West Africa had filed the legal action with the Nigeria-based court in 2007, seeking an order compelling the Gambian government to release Manneh.
“CPJ welcomes the court’s finding that Ebrima Manneh should not be in custody,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on Gambian authorities to respect this decision and to free Manneh immediately.”

Gambian officials refused to attend the court’s hearings. Three military officials and two police officers did not respond to summonses directing them to appear before the court in March, the Media Foundation and local journalists said.

Manneh, a journalist for the state-controlled Daily Observer, was arrested on July 7, 2006, after he tried to republish a BBC report critical of President Yahya Jammeh, local journalists and the Gambian Press Union told CPJ. Manneh’s colleagues witnessed his arrest by two plainclothes officers of the National Intelligence Agency at the premises of the Daily Observer.

Gambian security agencies and police have refused to provide information on Manneh’s whereabouts, health, and legal status. In a 2007 interview with CPJ, government communications secretary Neneh Macdouall-Gaye asserted that Manneh was not in government custody.

But local journalists reported that Manneh was seen in government custody in July 2007 at the Royal Victorian Teaching Hospital in Banjul, and again that September in the far eastern Fatoto Prison.

The court is the judicial arm of the Economic Community of West African States, an organization of 16 nations. Its rulings are considered binding on member states. The prosecution is awaiting a response from the Gambian government, Falana told CPJ today.