New York, August 6, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the highly politicized court verdict against six independent journalists today in the capital of the Gambia, Banjul.
Judge Emmanuel Fagbenle sentenced the journalists to two years in jail and heavy fines on six counts of sedition and criminal defamation, local journalists told CPJ. Failure to pay the fines will lead to an additional two years in jail, according to the Gambian Press Union.
The six journalists, working for two private newspapers–The Point and Foroyaa–had republished a June 11 press union statement criticizing President Yahya Jammeh’s comments regarding the unsolved 2004 murder of Point editor Deyda Hydara. According to the union, the six will be held at Mile Two Prison in Banjul while the defense files an appeal in the Gambian Court of Appeal.
The Gambian Press Union reacted in June to state-run televised statement made by Jammeh, saying his comments about Hydara were insensitive and calling for a renewed investigation into Hydara’s murder. In another state television appearance last month, Jammeh threatened local independent journalists and referred to them as “rat pieces.” “So they think they can hide behind so-called press freedom and violate the law and get away with it,” Jammeh said. “They got it wrong this time. We are going to prosecute them to the letter.”
“President Jammeh has managed to nail the coffin shut for press freedom in the Gambia by arresting some of the last remaining independent journalists in the country,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator,
One of the six convicted, The Point’s managing director, Pap Saine, suffers from a heart condition and is in desperate need of a pacemaker, he told CPJ. Authorities have also revived unrelated charges accusing Saine of publishing false information in a January article about a cabinet reshuffle in the Gambian Embassy in the United States. Another of the journalists, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, a senior Point reporter and vice president of the press union, has a seven-month-old baby, local journalists told CPJ.
The other convicted journalists are Foroyaa‘s managing director, Sam Saar, and assistant editor, Emil Touray; and The Point‘s deputy editor, Ebou Sawaneh, and senior reporter, Pa Modou Faal.