Monthly Archives: August 2009

gambia at crossroads

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It’s rather unfortunate that the Gambia – which in the days of PP – prided itself with being the champion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, is at crossroads.

Even the very regime that continues to bulldoze the rights of innocent citizens does not know where to go. The reality is that it’s succumbed by fear, and therefore resort to applying all kinds of tactics to trample on dissent.

The railroaded and unfair jailing of innocent journalists, which came on the heels of gross violations of citizens’ human rights in the form of disappearances, illegal detentions, unsolved murders, arson attacks, among others, was calculated to cause fear among Gambians of all walks of life.

Soon the Jammeh regime will swallow the bitter pills of putting behind bars people like Sam Sarr who has rendered invaluable service to the nation.

The heartlessness of the regime and its remote controlled judge was evident by the denial of Pap Saine to undergo a heart surgery and separation of Sarata Jabbi from her seven month old weaning baby. This happens under the directive of a regime that claim to prioritise women’s empowerment. Evidently, Sarata has been punished for challenging the regime rather than singing its praises.

As the author of Animal Farm, George O’well said, “not all birds are equal.”

It was no surprise that Mr. Saine had been hospitalised after few days in horrible prison. Afterall, the doyen journalist had earlier collapsed during the trial.

We will continue to monitor the conditions of our colleagues with our ears and eyes until they are released. Their health and survival lies in the hands of the Jammeh regime.

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jailed gambian editor ‘very sick’

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BANJUL — One of six journalists jailed on August 6 for criticising Gambia’s President YahyaJammeh is “very sick” and was hospitalised overnight, a medical source said Thursday.

Pap Saine, the managing editor of the daily The Point and Gambian correspondent for Thomson-Reuters, “was rushed to hospital on Wednesday after he collapsed in his prison cell,” said the source, who asked not to be named.

Media watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF – Reporters Without Borders) expressed concern in a statement Thursday about Saine’s heart condition and said he had lost consciousness at one point in the court case.

“He needs to have a pacemaker inserted in his chest but the operation cannot be performed in Gambia and the authorities have prevented his repeated attempts to travel to Senegal for the operation,” the RSF statement said.

The organisation also expressed concern for the only woman among the six, who have all been sentenced to two years in prison for publishing a statement critical of Jammeh in a case that has led to international protests.

Sarrata Jabbi-Dibba is a nursing mother with a seven-month-old baby whom she was breast-feeding, but on August 8, “prison guards took advantage of what they said would be a routine medical examination to take the baby from her,” RSF said in the statement.

“They then promised she would be able to see the baby at least twice a day, but it is now with the Gambian child services at Bakoteh, 20 kilometres (about 12 miles) outside the capital…”

Jabbi-Dibba has thus not seen her child since August 8, it said.

The journalists are being held in the Mile Two prison in Banjul, after being convicted for a statement that criticised Jammeh after he told state television that the government had “no stake” in the 2004 murder of investigative journalist Deyda Hydara.

Jammeh instead suggested that Hydara’s love life had led to his murder by unidentified gunmen, but the papers carried a Gambia Press Union statement protesting at provocative remarks and character assassination.

Hydara, the editor and co-founder of The Point and the Gambia correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP), was gunned down in his car on the outskirts of Banjul on December 16, 2004.

The authoritarian Jammeh has ruled Gambia for 15 years.

Source: AFP

mai favours gambia sanction

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Mai5[1](1)Leader of the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) has urged the international community, especially the US and EU, to impose sanctions against President senior government officials, including President Yahya Jammeh.

Barrister Mai Fatty’s statement was in response to the conviction of six Gambian journalists by a hired Nigerian judge Emmanuel Fagbenle on 6 August.

Fatty, himself a victim of the repressive regime’s calculated attacks, said he had “sleeplessly agonised over the fate of six eminent national heroes” punished for exercising their constitutional civic rights. He blamed the Fagbenle gulag for committing “unspeakable atrocity against Gambian sovereignty.”

Mr. Fatty blamed the Chief Justice Akomaye Agim for “uniquely selecting” Fagbenle, a judge of Civil Division, to “pervert the course of justice.”

“I am appalled that Yaya Jammeh incorrigibly converts himself into a reviled figure of terror and thrives by intimidation, impunity, specific authorization of judicial viciousness and trepidation against the very people he swore to protect and defend. The conviction of the GPU 6 amounts to a constitutional coup d’etat of our enshrined rights. It must attract bellicose national response!”

GMC described the conviction of the journalists as a “threat to national security.” Mr. Fatty was equally outraged that Fagbenle “besmirched his judicial robe transforming Gambian judiciary into an ignominous jest theatre.”

Unless “we remove” Jammeh who hired judicial mercenaries, GMC leader upheld, the “deadly cancer would soon consume the whole corpus. ‘I stoutly denounce this ghastly conspiracy against the rule of law in our country,” he said, calling for “aggressive, but legitimate national resistance against this senseless escalation of the law of might and fright in our country.

“Our Nation has been transformed into one humongous open-air prison where no citizen is free to properly exercise any of the fundamental freedoms contained in our Constitution.”

gambian judiciary’s dirty work

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The Gambian judiciary has once again denied justice to six gallant journalists whose only crime – if there is any – is to criticise President Yahya Jammeh for slandering Deyda Hydara, the country’s highly respected newspaper journalist assassinated in a 2004 drive by shooting.

The six journalists – Pap Saine, Sam Sarr, Ebrima Sawaneh, Sarata Jabbi, Pa Modou Faal and Emil Touray – were found guilty of all the six counts by Mr. Jammeh’s kangaroo court in the capital Banjul. Acting under his master’s dictates, Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, ordered the six to serve a two-year custodial sentence with hard labour. He also fined each to pay $10,000 for the remaining two counts, or indefault, serve another two years behind bars.

The outcome of the railroaded court case was publicly revealed by President Yahya Jammeh couple of weeks back when he said the journalists would not escape this time around. An independent judiciary would have squashed charges against the journalists after such comments were made. Unfortunately, our whole judicial service condone travesty of justice to the letter. What a shame!

Unashamedly, the government is still reluctant to investigate Hydara’s death, but would go to any length to hang his defenders, including Pap Saine, the slain editor’s partner of 35 years. Mr. Saine and Sam Sarr – journalists of outstanding characters and competence – have become victims of power abuse.

The convicts, who were convicted for merely publishing a reaction to President Jammeh’s slanderous statement, defended that they had no intention to defame the government or President Jammeh. Rather, it was publish in line with the citizens’ democratic rights to information as enshrined in the 1997 constitution.

Judge Fagbenle upheld that the journalists ridiculed Jammeh in the eyes of his colleagues. Fagbenle did not care about the plight of Sarata’s 7-month old who could be seen sucking her mother’s breast in court. He was also insensitive to Mr. Saine’s heart attacks, Sam Sarr’s impeccable character and the future of Emil, Sawaneh and Pa Modou.

It was about time that the civilised world act swiftly against the dictatorial regime that ripped Gambians all their god-given rights. As the host of the continental human righs commission, the Gambia has been a bulldozer of rights instead of pacesetter.

only gambian president enjoys press freedom

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Only Jammeh enjoys talking loosely

On July 22, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh once again went after journalists in an interview on the country’s only state-run television station. The president made a thinly veiled threat toward six independent journalists currently facing “seditious publication” and “criminal defamation” charges in the country: “So they think they can hide behind so-called press freedom and violate the law and get away with it. They got it wrong this time. We are going to prosecute them to the letter,” Jammeh said.

He stepped back and took a broader swing: “Any journalist who thinks that he or she can write whatever he or she wants and go free is making a big mistake. If anybody is caught, he will be severely dealt with.”

The reason for these charges and threats? The six journalists republished a press release issued by the Gambian Press Union last month criticizing televised comments Jammeh made regarding the 2004 murder of prominent Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara.

As the only Gambian enjoying full press freedom rights in the country, Jammeh has overstepped his bounds by passing judgment on journalists. He has also proven the partiality of our already weakened judicial system in which judges defend the president’s interests. We expect Jammeh to address his government’s appalling human rights and democratic credentials, investigate Hydara’s murder, the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh, and fix the alarming poverty rate instead of issuing threats and calling local journalists  “rat pieces.”

One thing is certain about the Gambian president–his words and deeds hardly correlate. This is the same president who said two years ago that “even if Yahya Jammeh intimidates you for defending somebody, go to the press.” By saying this, he seemed to be recognizing the press as a mirror and potential force for social change. Why then is his government punishing six journalists for merely defending Hydara, whose death has not been investigated by Gambian authorities?

During his televised comments, Jammeh accused journalists of tarnishing the government’s image. In essence, his government is responsible for tarnishing its own image. By seizing all powers and rights of citizens, we cannot remain mute. The onus lies on Jammeh to restore our country’s lost dignity. For the Gambia to enjoy participatory democracy and justice, and to command respect from the civilized world, it must demonstrate a commitment to free speech.

Musa Saidykhan, former editor of banned newspaper The Independent, and winner of CNN Multi-Choice Free Press Africa Awards 2007,  fled the Gambia in 2008 and resettled in the United States. The ECOWAS Community Court is currently hearing a torture case filed by the Media Foundation for West Africa on behalf of Saidykhan after he was detained and tortured by state security forces in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, in 2006.

Musa writes this article for CPJ blog.