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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in the Gambia

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Ms Pansy Tlakula, is gravely concerned about recent information she has received, indicating a deterioration of the situation of Freedom of Expression in the Republic of The Gambia.

The Special Rapporteur has again been informed, that on 22 May 2009, President Jammeh, whilst addressing a rally in Kanifing, cautioned Baba Leigh, the Imam of Kanifing, and an outspoken critic of the administration, to desist from publicly criticising his Presidency or face the risk of imprisonment and warned that any media practioners who reported any remarks made by the Imam would face legal action.

The Special Rapporteur has also been informed that Mr Abdul Hamid Adiamoh, Managing Editor of Today Newspaper, was arrested on 10 June 2009, on charges of false publication and broadcasting, contrary to Section 181 (A) of the Criminal Code. This was allegedly in connection with a story published by his paper, which reported the sacking of the Minister of Justice, Marie Saine-Firdaus and the Minister of Lands, Ismaila Sambou along with the Speaker of the House and the Chief Justice by President Jammeh, on 9 June 2009. According to reports, despite the subsequent issuing of a retraction in his paper on the following day, that is, 11 June 2009, and the letters of apology sent to both Ministers and to the President, he was on 16 June 2009 convicted and sentenced to a fine of 50,000 Dalasis and in default, six months imprisonment, by a Kanifing Magistrates Court.

The Special Rapporteur has also received reports, that in another incident, Ms Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Mr Emil Touray and Mr Pa Modou Faal, First-Vice President, Secretary General and Treasurer respectively of the Gambia Press Union, were arrested on 15 June 2009, by members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), in connection with a Press Release recently issued by the Gambian Press Union, criticising comments made by President Jammeh on the stalled investigations into the 2004 killing of Deyda Hydara, co-founder and Editor of the Point Newspaper. She is concerned about information reaching her, that four other staff of independent newspapers: Mr Pap Saine, Co-publisher and Managing Editor and Mr Ebrimma Sawaneh, News Editor of the independent newspaper, ThePoint, Mr Sam Sarr, the Editor and Mr Saidy Khan, a Reporter with the independent newspaper Foroyaa, have all been arrested in connection with the publication of the said Press Release.

The Special Rapporteur is seriously concerned that all seven journalists were on 18 June 2009, charged before the Kanifing Magistrate Court with three counts of seditious publication and that with the exception of Ms Jabbi-Dibba, who was granted bail to the amount of 200,000 Dalasis, but was not given the time to prepare her bail bond, the bail applications brought on behalf of all six remaining journalists, including Mr Emil Touray and Pa Modou Faal, who suffer serious medical conditions, was denied. She is also concerned about the fact that on 18 June, members of the NIA arrested an eighth journalist, Mr Abba Gibba, Assistant News Editor The Point, at the offices of the Newspaper, after questioning employees about its continued operation, despite the detention of senior staff members.

The Special Rapporteur is particularly disturbed by reports that all these journalists have since their arrest, been denied access to their family members and in particular to their lawyer.

The Special Rapporteur is gravely concerned, that if indeed all these reports are accurate, the Government of the Republic of The Gambia would be failing in its obligations to protect the right to Freedom of Expression as provided in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (the Declaration) which supplements the provisions of the African Charter. Such a state of affairs would also be contrary to other international human rights instruments to which The Republic of The Gambia is a State Party.

The Special Rapporteur has therefore expressed her concern in a written letter to the President of The Gambia, on 22 June 2009, urging him to direct the immediate and unconditional release of all eight journalists as well as Mr Halif Sallah and requesting for his comments on all the above alleged violations of the right to Freedom of Expression. In her letter, she also reiterated to the Government of The Gambia, her appeal to all Member States to bring their media laws in conformity with Freedom of Expression standards in general and the Declaration in particular, by repealing laws relating to criminal defamation and amending any existing defamation laws in conformity with Principle XII of the Declaration.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the verbal invitation extended to her mandate during the recently concluded 46 th Ordinary Session of the African Commission in Banjul, to conduct a promotional mission to The Gambia in August 2009. She eagerly awaits an official invitation from the Government of The Gambia to conduct this mission. She firmly believes that such mission, will provide a unique opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue on the above mentioned reports as well as on human rights issues in the Republic of The Gambia, in her dual capacity as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the Member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights in The Gambia.