New York, October 11, 2011 – An official of the Gambian government publicly indicated knowledge of the whereabouts of missing journalist Ebrima “Chief” Manneh, according to news reports. The government, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in Manneh’s 2006 disappearance, must immediately disclose the details of his status, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In an interview on Thursday with the local Daily News, the Gambia’s justice minister, Edward Gomez, denied Manneh was in state custody but declared: “I can tell you that Ebrima Chief Manneh is alive,” without elaborating. In another interview on Monday with Agence France-Presse, Gomez said: “Chief Ebrima Manneh is alive and we will talk about this case later.”
In March, President Yahya Jammeh referenced the death of Manneh, who was picked up by state security agents at the offices of his newspaper, Daily Observer, in July 2006, though he continued to deny that the government was involved in his disappearance. Last month, Gambian Vice-President Isatou Njie-Saidy also denied that the government arrested Manneh and said she had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
“The public comments by Gambian Justice Minister Edward Gomez on the fate of Ebrima ‘Chief’ Manneh are a step toward finally breaking the official silence on his case,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The minister should immediately relieve the anguish endured by Manneh’s family and colleagues by revealing his knowledge of the journalist’s whereabouts, health and legal status.”
Manneh was sighted in government custody in December 2006 and in July 2007, according to CPJ research. Agence France-Presse quoted an unnamed police official in 2009 as saying that Manneh had last been sighted at Mile 2 prison in 2008 and speculating that he was no longer alive.
The Gambia has resisted international appeals to free Manneh by, among others, six U.S. senators, UNESCO, and the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States.