Amnesty International paid special recognition last week to Ebrima B. Manneh, a Gambian journalist who has disappeared, at its prestigious annual Media Awards ceremony in London. As Amnesty International UK’s campaigner for individuals at risk in Africa, I was thrilled to be present at the awards ceremony and to watch BBC News TV presenter Mishal Husain introduce a film clip about Manneh’s tragic case in front of hundreds of world-class journalists and human rights activists.
Manneh, right, received special recognition in Amnesty’s Special Award for Journalism Under Threat category. The award pays tribute to the courage of journalists around the world who pursue their work at great personal risk. Its purpose is to draw attention to the dangers that journalists encounter. The winner of the Special Award this year was Eynulla Fatullayev from Azerbaijan, who is currently serving an eight and a half year sentence because of his outspoken journalism and criticism of government policies in that country. Manneh and Cuban journalist Pablo Pacheco Avila were highlighted for special recognition in the category.
Manneh’s case deserves this recognition. In July 2006, he was working at the office of the Daily Observer newspaper when plainclothes officers asked him to accompany them for questioning. Since then, he’s been held incommunicado. It is believed that he was arrested for attempting to publish a BBC article that was critical of the government.
There have been few sightings of him since. In one case, a year after his arrest, a witness reported that Manneh, accompanied by police officers, was receiving treatment for high blood pressure at a local hospital. What a scandal, though: The government is still denying all knowledge of his whereabouts.
Having talked to Manneh’s family on a number of occasions, this case fills me with a sense of horror. Manneh supported his whole family with his journalism. Since he’s been gone, they’ve suffered financially. But the financial aspect is just one part of a terrible situation: Imagine the pain of not knowing when your son or brother is coming home. Imagine not knowing whether he’s dead or alive, or whether he’s been tortured. In fact, it’s impossible for me to really imagine the full impact of what it must be like for them.
We’re hoping that honoring Manneh at the Amnesty Media Awards will serve as an embarrassment to the Gambian government and encourage them to think again. To keep the pressure on, I really hope you can take action for Manneh and help secure his freedom.
You’ll see that we’ve launched a photo action campaign for Manneh. We’re gathering creative photos from all around the world asking the very simple question: Where is Ebrima Manneh? We want the Gambian government to provide the answer. So far we’ve collected more than 100 pictures that we’ll make into a photo album to present to the Gambian authorities on a day of action on July 22. I hope you can take part.
Kali Mercier is Amnesty International UK’s campaigner for Individuals at Risk in Africa.