It has been three weeks since the Ecowas Community Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria, delivered a landmark verdict ordering Gambian authorities to “immediately release” the pro-government newspaper journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh who had been illegally detained. The court also ordered Mr Manneh to be compensated $100,000 as damages.
State security agents arrested Manneh in his Daily Observer offices on 7 July 2006, but continuously denied holding him, let alone knew his whereabouts.
Ironically, Gambian authorities showed their true colour by not refusing to appear before the regional court to defend itself. It has maintained the same lukewarm attitude even after the court had delivered its verdict. This unwarranted silence has become unbecoming to the extent that the international community must not keep mute over it. Rather, a systematic and coordinated pressure should be piled on authorities in The Gambia.
Though the smallest on mainland Africa, the West African country is the seat of international human rights organizations, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. Isn’t it illogical for the world to watch and allow such an important country to continuously seize and trample on all the rights and freedoms of its citizens?
This un-Gambian attitude is undoubtedly one of the bad legacies of the 1994 military coup that brought the former Lt. Yahya Jammeh into power. President Jammeh soon changed himself into a civilian leader, though he believes that “once a soldier, always a soldiers.”
Before he had forced the former President Dawda Jawara and his ruling People’s Progress Party, though with limited infrastructure, The Gambia was known for being the oasis of peace, democracy, rule of law and human rights. These good values magnetized thousands of foreigners to migrate into the country.
However, this land of hope where peace was born soon turned a police state where civil servants fear press more than death, where disappearances, mysterious killings, arson attacks and many more have become the order of the day.
Any failure by the international community to punish The Gambia for being disrespectful to the regional court will surely give leverage to other countries to follow its trend. Besides, being the first crucial press freedom case before the Abuja court, the case’s verdict must not be allowed to slip under the carpet. Chief Ebrima Manneh should be immediately freed unconditionally. His family and associates had been reeling with bleeding hearts.
By Musa Saidykhan