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Financial appeal launched for Gambian journalists' legal battle

8 July 2009

A legal defence fund has been set up for seven Gambian journalists – including leaders of the local union – who face charges of sedition for criticising the country's President. The NUJ has launched the fund, supported by Amnesty International, the TUC and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The seven are due in court again on Monday, 20 July.

Those on trial are Emil Touray, general secretary, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, vice president, and Pa Modou Faal, treasurer, of the Gambia Press Union (GPU); Pap Saine, publisher, and Ebrima Sawaneh, editor, of The Point Newspaper; Sam Sarr, editor, and Abubcarr Saidykhan, reporter, at the Foroyaa Newspaper.

The arrests of the journalists followed the publication of a statement by the GPU critical of the Gambian head of state, President Yahia Jammeh.

When the seven appeared before the high court in Banjul on Friday 3 July, protests and representations were made by trades unionists, journalists, and human rights campaigners at Gambian embassies in Britain, Belgium, Ethiopia, Italy, France, Senegal, Sweden and Switzerland.

The case was adjourned for written legal arguments to be presented and the seven were remanded in custody. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba was later released because she is a nursing mother.

The other six defendants were held in Banjul's Mile Two prison until the morning of 7 July when they were released on bail of 400,000 dalassi (€10,800). Friends, colleagues and family struggled to raise the surety.

The case will resume on Monday 20 June.

Jim Boumelha, President of the IFJ and a member of the NUJ's national executive, said:

"The actions of IFJ unions in the big European capitals had an enormous impact. Gambia is a small country with little resources that needs friends.
"We fear that the Gambian courts will drag this on and on – partly to gag everybody and most importantly to try to deflate the protest.
"The Gambia Press Union and the IFJ are ready for the long haul and we will carry on and expand our global campaign until our colleagues are freed and the charges dropped."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, who attended last week's protest at the Gambian High Commission in London, said:

"In recent times journalists in the Gambia have been arrested, have disappeared, and have been killed.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the Gambian union as they fight for the freedom of their friends and colleagues, and for a free press in their country.
"One of the things we can do is raise money for their legal defence. I would urge all journalists and trades unionists in Britain and Ireland to give what they can. What may seem like small sums for us will make a huge difference to the campaign."

Tags: , gambia, sedition, press freedom, ifj, amnesty international, tuc, solidarity, journalists arrested, journalists detained, journalists prosecuted, gpu, protests