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.