The Committee to Protect Journalist urges you to end an unprecedented level of intimidation and detention of Gambian journalists by national security forces. Today marks the third anniversary of the disappearance of journalist "Chief" Ebrima Manneh--his whereabouts, health, and legal status are unknown. Manneh, a former reporter for the Daily Observer, was taken into government custody by security agents in July 2006.
Your government has consistently denied holding Manneh or having knowledge of his whereabouts despite eyewitness accounts of his arrest at the newspaper's premises. Last April, Attorney General and Justice Minister Marie Saine Firdaus told National Assembly members that Manneh was not in government custody. The former communications secretary and current ambassador to the United States, Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, told CPJ the same thing in 2007.
In other instances your government has ignored calls for Manneh's release. Last year the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordered your government to release him and pay his family damages of US$100,000. But the legal order has been ignored and no government personnel attended the court proceedings. We are also aware that attorneys for Manneh have filed a petition on his behalf with the United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and that a decision from this group is expected later this summer. Your Excellency, we call on you to look into this matter and end a virtual three-year government silence on Manneh's whereabouts.
We also join with the global community in expressing concern about Monday's court charges against seven independent journalists by the High Court in Banjul for publishing a press release issued by the Gambian Press Union. The journalists and senior press union members are being penalized for a reaction to your televised comments regarding the unsolved 2004 murder of former editor Deyda Hydara. The seven journalists--Pap Saine, Sam Saar, Emil Touray, Ebrima Sawaneh, Pa Modou Faal, Abubakr Saidy Khan, and Sarata Jabbi-Dibba--will face trial on Wednesday on five charges of seditious publication and criminal defamation.
These heavy-handed charges are designed to silence the independent press. They further tarnish your country's press freedom record, making the Gambia the most difficult country in which to practice journalism in West Africa, in CPJ's assessment. In 2007, Gambia ranked second in a CPJ study of countries where press freedom had deteriorated the most over a five-year period.
This downslide can be reversed if your government adheres to its pledges as a signatory to Article 9 of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights to uphold press freedom and unconditionally drop all charges against these seven journalists. We also call on you as a member of ECOWAS to address Ebrima Manneh's case immediately. Such action will pave the way for an end to impunity against journalists in the Gambia.
Thank you for your attention to these pressing matters. We look forward to your reply.