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Gambia convictions condemned as 'spineless'

7 August 2009

Six journalists in Gambia have been convicted of sedition and face a two-year jail sentence. They also face a reported fine of 250,000 Dalasis (US$10,000) for criticising President Yahya Jammeh.

The NUJ has joined with sister unions and human rights organisations to condemn the convictions.

Jim Boumelha, President of the International Federation of Journalists and a member of the NUJ's national executive council, said:

"This is one of the darkest days in the history of African journalism. The harsh sentences pronounced today by justice Fagbenle fly in the face of all the constitutional guarantees and the principles of press freedom and natural justice. Our Gambian colleagues were right to have no faith in the Gambian judicial system, which has proved to be spineless and a faithful servant of president Jammeh."

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, hit out at the sentences:

"The conviction and penalties imposed go against the core principles of press freedom that are respected by democratic states around the world. The NUJ will continue in its campaign to support our colleagues in the Gambia and to expose the injustices of this case."

The NUJ joined with the TUC and Amnesty International to mount demonstrations outside the Gambian high commission last month in protest against the prosecutions and other press freedom violations.

The six Gambian journalists involved in the case are Emil Touray, general secretary of the Gambia Press Union , Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, its vice president, and Pa Modou Faal, its treasurer; publisher Pap Saine, Ebrima Sawaneh, editor of The Point newspaper, and Sam Sarr, editor at the Foroyaa newspaper. They have all been convicted on six counts of sedition and defamation and have been sent to Mile Two State Central Prisons in the capital Banjul.

The arrests of the journalists followed the publication of a statement by the GPU denouncing comments made on national television by the head of state, President Yahya Jammeh, on the death of Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara and the state of press freedom in the country.

The six journalists were initially arrested on 15 June 2009 together with Abubcarr Saidykhan, a reporter at the Foroyaa newspaper, who was eventually released. They were charged with publishing seditious publications and two accounts of criminal defamations.

The NUJ has joined with the IFJ in calling for their immediate release. The organisations are also calling for a genuine inquest into the assassination of Deyda Hydara, the disappearance of Chief Ibrahima Manneh, and many other press freedom and freedom of expression abuses in the Gambia.

Jim Boumelha added:

"The IFJ and its members worldwide will continue to fight shoulder to shoulder with our Gambian colleagues until justice is done and the six journalists are released."

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