Senator calls for Gambian journalist’s release

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said he wanted to focus his colleagues’ attention on a tragic story in a small West African nation. Chief Ebrima Manneh is a reporter in the Gambia for the state-controlled Daily Observer newspaper. He was arrested by two plainclothes officers from the country’s National Intelligence Agency at the newspaper’s office building in July 2006. Why? He tried to republish in the Daily Observer a BBC report critical of President Yahya Jammeh, local journalists and the Gambian press union told CPJ at the time.

As far as anyone knows, Manneh was never charged with a crime. Gambian authorities have refused to provide information on the journalist’s whereabouts, health and legal status. In a 2007 interview with CPJ, then government communications secretary Neneh Macdouall-Gaye denied that Manneh was in government custody.

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

Durbin noted Wednesday on the Senate floor that Amnesty International considers Manneh a prisoner of conscience. The senator went on to say that the Gambian government, despite efforts by groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, continues to deny any involvement in his arrest or knowledge of his whereabouts.

“My direct request to the Gambian Embassy here in Washington has also been met with shameful silence,” Durbin added. Last month in Nigeria, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States declared the arrest and apparent ongoing detention of Manneh illegal and ordered Gambian officials to release him.

In its July 4 edition, the Daily Observer quoted the Minority Leader in the Gambian Parliament, Momodou Sanneh, as calling on the government to “deal with the matter.”

“Is the Gambian government so afraid of one of its own reporters that it cannot even acknowledge his detention?” Durbin asked. “I say to President Jammeh: Release this reporter. Let him return to his family.”