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AU Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Expresses Concern

Jun 26, 2009, 6:17 AM

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, has expressed grave concerned "about recent information she has received, indicating a deterioration of the situation of Freedom of Expression in the Republic of The Gambia," according to a press release issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

"The Special Rapporteur is gravely concerned, that if indeed all these reports are accurate, the government of the Republic of The Gambia would be failing in its obligations to protect the right to Freedom of Expression as provided in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Charter) and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (the Declaration) which supplements the provisions of the African Charter. Such a state of affairs would also be contrary to other international human rights instruments, to which the Republic of The Gambia is a state party."

The release noted that the Special Rapporteur had been informed that Mr Abdul Hamid Adiamoh, Managing Editor of Today Newspaper, was arrested on 10 June 2009, on charges of false publication and broadcasting; allegedly in connection with a story published by his paper, which reported the sackings of the Minister of Justice, Marie Saine-Firdaus and the Minister of Lands, Ismaila Sambou, along with the Speaker of the House and the Chief Justice by President Jammeh, on 9 June 2009; but that despite the subsequent issuing of a retraction in his paper on the following day, that is, 11 June 2009, and the letters of apology sent to both Ministers and to the President, he was on 16 June 2009 convicted and sentenced to a fine of 50,000 Dalasi, and in default, to serve six months imprisonment, by a Kanifing Magistrates Court.

The release indicated that the Special Rapporteur had also received reports, that in another incident, Ms. Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Mr. Emil Touray and Mr. Pa Modou Faal, First-Vice President, Secretary-General and Treasurer, respectively of the Gambia Press Union, were arrested on 15 June 2009, by members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), in connection with a press release recently issued by the Gambian Press Union, criticising comments made by President Jammeh on the stalled investigations into the 2004 killing of Deyda Hydara, co-founder and Editor of the Point Newspaper. She is concerned about information reaching her, that four other staff of independent newspapers: Mr. Pap Saine, Co-publisher and Managing Editor and Mr. Ebrima Sawaneh, News Editor of the independent newspaper, the Point, Mr. Sam Sarr, the Editor and Mr. Saidykhan, a reporter with the independent newspaper Foroyaa, have all been arrested in connection with the publication of the said press release.

The Special Rapporteur noted that she was concerned about the fact that on 18 June, members of the NIA arrested an eighth journalist, Mr. Abba Gibba, Assistant News Editor, The Point, at the offices of the Newspaper, after questioning employees about its continued operation, despite the detention of senior staff members.

According to the release, the Special Rapporteur had therefore expressed her concern in a written letter to the President of The Gambia, urging him to direct the immediate and unconditional release of all eight journalists, including Mr. Halifa Sallah and requesting for his comments on all the above alleged violations of the right to Freedom of Expression. "In her letter, she also reiterated to the government of The Gambia, her appeal to all member states to bring their media laws in conformity with Freedom of Expression standards in general and the Declaration in particular, by repealing laws relating to criminal defamation and amending any existing defamation laws in conformity with Principle XII of the Declaration," the press release noted.

Editor's Note: The Press Release from the Special Rapporteur of  the African Union is an official statement published by this paper with a view to keeping the public informed of the debate on the state of freedom of expression in the Republic of The Gambia.

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