18 October 2006

Gambia: Newspaper Journalist Remains Arbitrarily Detained, 3 Months After Arrest

press release

Chief Ebrima Manneh, a reporter of the "Daily Observer", a pro-government newspaper, is still languishing in the cells of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), four months after his arrest.

Manneh has been held incommunicado since his arrest and subsequent incarceration on 11 July 2006.

The NIA has not given any reason for its action but Manneh is alleged to have provided "damaging" information to a foreign journalist prior to the African Union Summit held in Banjul in July.

MFWA sources say he was picked up at the premises of the "Daily Observer" by NIA personnel, but the NIA has continually denied holding him. With the 9 October release of Malick Mboob, Manneh is the only journalist remaining in prison.

Since the government announced a foiled coup attempt in March 2006, a number of journalists have been arrested, tortured or forced into exile. The office of the Banjul-based bi-weekly "The Independent" remains illegally shut while one of its reporters, Lamin Fatty, faces trial for "publishing false information" after spending 63 days in illegal detention by the NIA.

Omar Bah, news editor of the "Daily Observer", escaped into exile in May, a few days before he was declared wanted by the Gambian police for his alleged contribution to a US-based online newspaper, "Freedom Newspaper", that is critical of the government.

At the "Daily Observer", government officials consistently plant stories in the newspaper and remove those deemed critical of the government. "Journalists who object to these acts of censorship are branded as opposition elements and threatened with dismissals or imprisonment," said a former "Daily Observer" staff member, currently in exile.

MFWA is bewildered at the NIA's continued denial of holding journalist Manneh. We see his continuing arbitrary detention as a gross violation of his rights and an outright contravention of guarantees enshrined in the Gambia's constitution. We therefore call on the Jammeh government to immediately and unconditionally release the journalist.

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