Keep digging into disappearance of Gambia's Manneh

By Yaya Dampha on April 15, 2009 2:43 PM ET

GPUThe whereabouts of "Chief" Ebrima Manneh, right, the Gambian journalist who has been missing since his arrest by state security agents in July 2006, has become an urgent issue again in the country's media houses, homes, and human rights offices. The question needs to be studied carefully, and no one should draw quick conclusions.

As a journalist for the Gambian daily Foroyaa, I reported on Manneh's disappearance. I later chose to go into exile so I could testify before a regional human rights court in a case brought by the Media Foundation for West Africa. The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States ultimately found the Gambian government had unlawfully detained Manneh and ordered the journalist's release. The government, which officially denies holding Manneh, has ignored the order.

I met Chief Manneh on assignment about 10 years ago, and we crossed paths several times over the years, both of us in search of news. When Manneh vanished after being arrested at the offices of his paper, the Daily Observer, I was assigned to investigate the case. I searched for Manneh from the Bakau police station to National Intelligence Agency headquarters, from a police station in Sibanor to a lockup in Fatoto. When I reached Fatoto in December 2006, I saw an officer escort Manneh out of a cell and serve him food. I could not interview Manneh and, despite my paper's efforts, police officials would not comment on the sighting.

So it has been for nearly three years. Government officials fail to answer legitimate questions publicly and fully, while sources promote misinformation on the case.

Last week, Gambia's attorney general claimed not to know of Manneh's detention. Then, this week, Agence France-Presse quoted an unnamed police official as saying that security agents took Manneh from Mile Two Prison in 2008. The officer speculated that Manneh was probably dead. We have heard officials give out these shadowy reports before--that Manneh died in 2007, that he was killed a week after his arrest.

Now in Sweden, I have been busy trying to reach my sources for possible updates on Chief Manneh. A staff member at the Jammeh Foundation for Peace Hospital in Bundung tells me Manneh was treated there recently. A prison source tells me Manneh is still being held at Mile Two, in a highly restricted unit.

I am persuaded Chief Manneh is still alive, but the truth is still elusive. I call on all of you to continue reporting. One day the truth will be known. 

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