Gambian journalist under arrest over false story

New York, June 12, 2009–The editor of a private newspaper in the Gambia has been in police custody since Wednesday because of a story that falsely reported the sacking of two government officials, according to local journalists.

Abdulhamid Adiamoh, at left, managing editor of the daily Today, is being held in a cell at the Major Crimes Unit of police headquarters in the capital Banjul since his arrest on Wednesday, the journalists told CPJ.

Wednesday’s edition of Today ran a story falsely alleging the justice minister and minister of local government affairs had been fired amid a cabinet reshuffle by President Yahya Jammeh, according to local journalists. The paper apologized and retracted the story on Thursday.

Gambian laws allowed for prosecution of the offense of publishing false news, carrying a maximum sentence of six months in prison and/or a fine of 250,000 dalasis (US$9,400), explained lawyer Lamin Camara. Police have 72 hours to bring Adiamoh to court, he said.

“The arrest of Abdulhamid Adiamoh and the prospect of jail for publishing a story that has already been withdrawn, and for which the paper has apologized, is excessive,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “His detention is part of a relentless pattern of government harassment of journalists. We call on the Gambian authorities to drop this prosecution and to release him immediately.”

Police also summoned and questioned Today reporter Edward Carayol on Thursday over the news item, according to local journalists. Adiamoh faces a separate charge of sedition from an arrest last July, according to CPJ research.

In the Gambia, one of the world’s worst backsliders in press freedom, a handful of independent media operate in a climate of fear and self-censorship, particularly since the unsolved 2004 murder of editor Deyda Hydara and the 2006 arrest of journalist “Chief” Ebrima Manneh