Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) leads a group of six senators to call for the immediate release of the former state Daily Observer newspaper, “Chief” Ebrima Manneh today. Colleagues at the newspaper say they witnessed two plainclothes Gambian National Intelligence Agency officers whisk Manneh, right, away in July 2006. He has not been seen since despite repeated calls to the government to disclose his whereabouts.
“The conflicting information and lack of responsiveness further the perception of a disturbing deterioration of human rights in the Gambia, particularly in regards to basic press freedoms,” wrote the six senators, which, in addition to Durbin, include Sens. Russ Feingold, Robert Casey, Patty Murray, Joe Lieberman, and Ted Kennedy.
Their sentiments are supported by a whirlwind of denials and witness accounts. Recently, credible witnesses have reported that Manneh is still alive while an Agence-France Press article published last week quoted an unnamed senior police source who speculated that the journalist was dead. Sightings of Manneh have been reported throughout his disappearance from Mile Two Prison in the capital, Banjul, to the National Intelligence Agency compound in neighboring Serekunda, and all the way to eastern Gambia at Fatoto Prison.
Despite sightings and considerable international pressure, the Gambian government has consistently denied holding Manneh. The former communications secretary and current Gambian Ambassador to the United States, Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, told CPJ in 2007 that Manneh was not in government custody. The same response was echoed this month by Gambian Attorney General and Justice Minister Marie Saine Firdaus.
Local journalists and the Gambian Press Union have told CPJ that Manneh was abducted for simply trying to republish in the Daily Observer a BBC report that was critical of President Yahya Jammeh. But the former president of the Gambian Press Union, Demba Jawo, believes Manneh was targeted for his investigations into the 2005 killing of Ghanaian immigrants in the Gambia. Jawo is also the co-author of a book on the 2004 murder of the Gambian independent daily Point reporter, Deyda Hydara.
Whatever the motive behind Manneh’s disappearance, mounting international pressure on the Gambian government will hopefully induce some answers. A group of prominent lawyers and human rights experts called Freedom Now filed a petition for Manneh with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The petition was filed last November and a ruling is expected soon. Last week, Amnesty International launched a photo campaign urging answers. And exiled Gambians journalists throughout the world continue looking for answers to their former colleague’s disappearance.
Sen. Durbin’s second call for answers to Manneh’s disappearance sends a strong message to President Jammeh that the world will no longer tolerate silence on this tragic case. Read the entire letter here.