UPDATED: In Manneh case, Gambia silent as questions mount

Considerable international press coverage arose from U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin’s statements on the Senate floor last week, calling on the Gambian government to release imprisoned journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh. But Durbin’s request has not drawn a response from the Gambian Embassy in Washington. Ambassador Abdul R. Cole told CPJ today that his government would not “be making any comment on this.”


A reporter for The Daily Observer, Manneh was detained in July 2006 by state security agents after he tried to republish a BBC report on the eve of an African Union summit in the capital city, Banjul. Spotted at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul in July 2007, his whereabouts and health since then are unknown.


Just as the Gambian government remains silent over Manneh’s whereabouts, the embattled Gambian press has followed suit. Years of harassment and intimidation by the government has created a climate of self-censorship in the Gambian press, Demba Jawo, former president of the Gambian Press Union, told CPJ. The unsolved 2004 murder of Deyda Hydara, former editor of The Point newspaper, has silenced the national press.


Last month, the managing editor of the independent daily Today was interrogated and accused by the police of sedition. The story? A front-page piece about impoverished schoolchildren scavenging from dump sites.


Despite the intimidation, some voices in the Gambian press have spoken up. Last month, The Point raised its concern over the disappearance of Manneh. And the weekly independent Foroyaa closely follows every court case filed by the government against journalists. National press organizations such as The Gambia Press Union and Media Agenda have also called for the release of Manneh.


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. But in what’s become a sadly familiar fashion, the Gambian government has ignored the court’s ruling.

UPDATE: The president of the West African Bar Association, Femi Falana, today told CPJ that he has urged the president of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States to impose sanctions on the government of The Gambia over the detention of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh.

Falana, who was co-counsel in the team of prosecuting lawyers that obtained the court ruling, said his petition to Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas was based on Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty on “sanctions applicable for non-fulfillment of obligations.” The respected Nigerian-born human rights lawyer said he was prepared to compel the president to address the issue by legal means, if necessary.

UPDATE: Our colleagues from the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa pointed out to us in the comments on this post that we had neglected to acknowledge their huge contribution to this case, and they were right to do so. The foundation spearheaded the groundbreaking ECOWAS lawsuit against the Gambian government that was prosecuted by Femi Falana. Last year, they filed a lawsuit through the ECOWAS court against the Gambian government over the case of the 2006 illegal detentions and torture of award-winning journalist Musa Saidykhan. That case has not yet gone to court.

The original version of this posting incorrectly spelled the name of the Gambian ambassador.