On July 7, 2006, two plainclothes officers of the National Intelligence Agency arrested “Chief” Ebrima Manneh at the office of his newspaper, the pro-government Daily Observer, according to Ousman Darboe, Manneh’s colleague who observed the arrest and wrote about it for CPJ. The reason for Manneh’s arrest was unclear, although some colleagues believe it was linked to his attempt to republish a BBC article critical of then-President Yahya Jammeh.
During the 11 years after his arrest, conflicting detail emerged about Manneh’s whereabouts and health, before
Gambian police in February 2017 informed the Manneh family that the journalist had died, according to Adama Manneh, one of his sisters.
“[The police said] he was killed and thrown in a well,” she told CPJ on September 29, 2017, adding that the well is located around Kanailai, in the Gambia’s southwest, near the border with Senegal. “They [the police] don’t have people responsible for his death … Now they need experts to come and destroy the well and try to get people who were thrown in there,” Adama Manneh told CPJ.
Witnesses reported seeing Manneh 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 been spotted at Mile 2 Prison outside Banjul in 2008, but the official also speculated that Manneh was no longer alive.
Over the years, despite dozens of inquiries from international organizations, the government did not provide a credible account of what happened to Manneh after he was taken into custody. In 2008, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that Gambia had unlawfully seized Manneh, and ordered his immediate release.
In a nationally televised meeting with local media representatives in March 2011, Jammeh described Manneh as having died, but denied any government involvement in the journalist’s fate. "Let me make it very clear that the government has nothing to do with the death of Chief Manneh," he said.
The justice minister at the time, Edward Gomez, provided contradictory information several months later. In an October 2011 interview with the local newspaper Daily News, Gomez said that Manneh was alive. In a subsequent interview with AFP, Gomez said, "Chief Ebrima Manneh is alive, and we will talk about this case later.”
In February 2012, Reuters reported that Jammeh had asked the United Nations to investigate Manneh’s disappearance. "In response to civil society complaints about the disappearance of a journalist in the Gambia, the president of Gambia asked for the U.N. to come in and investigate," the U.N.’s then High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, according to Reuters. But in a subsequent interview with CPJ, a government spokesman denied having any knowledge of the request to the U.N.
On June 10, 2014, the ECOWAS court held that previous rulings against the Gambia, including in Manneh’s case, proved the then Gambian government was fostering a climate of impunity, which in itself was a violation of freedom of expression.
In a statement in November 2014, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that two U.N. special rapporteurs had been unable to complete their investigation into the legal protection of prisoners in the Gambia after the Jammeh government denied them access to its prisons. The statement said the fact-finding mission was suspended.
In January 2017, Adama Barrow was elected president of the Gambia, renewing hope that justice may be served for journalists missing and imprisoned under the Jammeh regime.
Asked about Manneh’s case, Demba Ali Jawo, Gambian information minister for the Barrow administration, told CPJ, “Officially we have not heard anything yet. We have been getting rumors. We haven’t got a lead.”
The Gambia is organizing a truth and reconciliation commission for the crimes committed under the former government, which Jawo said may result in new information on journalists.