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UK Foreign Secretary Hopes for the Release of Gambian Journalists

Aug 25, 2009, 2:25 PM | Article By: Alhagie Mbye, our UK correspondent

David Miliband, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary has revealed that he is hopeful that the convicted Gambian journalists currently in jailed would soon be released in respect of certain international protocols and agreements.

 Since the imprisonment of the six journalists, including members of the Gambia Press Union, hundreds of Point Newspaper readers here in the United Kingdom have equally indicated their anticipation, and pray that ''President Jammeh will use his good office, especially in the holy month of Ramadan to release the journalists''.

The Point readers both Gambians and non-Gambians accepted that journalism in the African continent could be a daunting profession. However, they equally have faith in the Gambian President, to release the media practitioners so that they can reunite with their families in the blessed month of Ramadan.

 However, in a personal communication dispatched to this correspondent on (Reference withheld), the UK Foreign Secretary disclosed that he is aware of the circumstances of the seven jailed journalists and that the British High Commission in Banjul had raised concerns about it, including similar sentiment via bilateral relations between the two countries. It is important to note that the two countries have enjoyed longstanding bilateral relations for many decades now.

 The communication written on behalf of Miliband by the Desk Officer for West Africa in his Department said: ''Foreign Secretary is aware about the arrest and subsequent sentence of two years imprisonment of six journalists, including senior members of the Gambian Press Union.We were very concerned to hear of the arrests and conviction of the six journalists''.

 The Foreign Secretary also revealed to this correspondent that the United Kingdom in its capacity as local EU Presidency in Banjul "carried out a demarche on behalf of the EU Presidency on the Department of State for Foreign Affairs of The Gambia on 26thJune to raise EU concerns over these arrests, in particular and media freedom in general''.

 Miliband also noted that the ''British High Commission in Banjul regularly raises these concerns with the government of the Gambia, both bilaterally and in its capacity as Permanent Local Presidency of the European Union (EU)''. He added that such concerns are also raised during ''its regular meetings with the Gambian authorities under the auspices of Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement''.

The EU statement reveals that it is very concerned by the ''heavy sentences handed down and the negative impact of these prosecutions on freedom of expression in The Gambia''.

Nonetheless, the Foreign Secretary also highlighted the right to freedom of expression in the continent, saying it is fundamental to democracy and a fundamental freedom, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the African Charter on Human Rights and People's Rights, to which The Gambia is a state party.

A devoted Point reader, who is a consultant and resident of Cambridge, commenting on the issue said: ''I hope that people will see such call as a goodwill gesture and not otherwise as the Gambia is a country of very good and warm people. Beside we are in a very important month of the Muslim calendar, therefore I urged President Jammeh to intervene, utilise his good office and pardon these journalists''.