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We Never Intent to Defame President Jammeh

Jul 31, 2009, 2:38 AM | Article By: Soury Camara

Pap Saine, Sam Sarr Tell the Court

As Pap Saine, the Co-Publisher and Editor of the Point Newspaper and Sam Sarr, Managing Editor of Foroyaa Newspaper took the witness box yesterday, in the ongoing six journalists' trial at the High Court in Banjul, both men have stated that they had not under any circumstances intent to defame President Yahya Jammeh.

First to take the witness box was the Point Newspaper's boss, Pap Saine, who told the court that for thirty-nine years he has been practising journalism, but had never been charged with any seditious or defamatory offence.

The Dean of Reuters Correspondent for West and Central Africa, narrated how he was on that fateful day of June 15th 2009, asked to report to the NIA Headquarters in Banjul.

Pap Saine (DW5), while in the witness box informed the court that his names are Pap Babucarr Saine and that he lives in Latrikunda Sabiji. He said he is a publisher and media practitioner.

DW5 testified that he could vividly remember on 15th June 2009, at around 1:30 pm when Ebrima Sawaneh, the accused number one called him on the phone and told him that there were two NIA officers at the office, who requested that he(Sawaneh) and Pap Saine should report to the NIA Head Office.

DW5 adduced that upon arrival at the office, he went with others- Ebrima Sawaneh, Sarata Jabbi Dibba and Emil Touray to the NIA.

DW5 stated that when they got to the NIA Headquarters in Banjul, after a few minutes they were invited to the conference room of the agency, when one NIA officer came and told him that they have been invited for questioning in connection with an article published in the Point Newspaper, captioned "GPU's reacts to the President interview".

According to him, they were each given the said article and quizzed about the author of the piece.

In response, he said it's a press release from the GPU.

DW5 further told the court that he simply published the said article in the interest of democracy and press freedom as articulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human and People's Right, of which the Gambia is a party.

DW5 also informed the court that prior to that, the paper had earlier published the interview of the President, among other things, on the death of the late Deyda Hydara. He reasoned that it was out of the same conscience that he had authorised the publication of the article in the Point Newspaper.

He noted that as the article is neither malicious nor seditious, he decided to publish it in the public interest. He added that since the constitution of The Gambia put special emphasis on the need for divergent views to be upheld, in particular, the independent media, he decided to publish it.

DW5 said that "when they interrogated me this was my response to them."

He went on to state that, they were on the following day asked to write their cautionary statements, to which they accordingly complied.

Still testifying, DW5 adduced that there was neither a name of a security officer on exhibit (D), nor was it signed by any security officer.

When availed with exhibit A and B (Foroyaa and the Point Newspapers, respectively), DW5 testified that only those papers were shown to him.

 "I published it because the article was not seditious and defamatory and the article never stated that President Jammeh and the government of The Gambia have a hand in the killing of the late Deyda Hydara, in both the two exhibits," he stressed.

Defence witness five, further testified that he was made to write his name on exhibit I (the email from GPU), under the directives of NIA officers, which he said was not authored by him, but the President of the GPU, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, whom he said, is also the source of the article.

DW5 adduced that "there is no alleged seditious, nor defamatory issue contained in exhibit (I) and the email was from GPU@qanet.gm, and page 3 of it was from madenba@worldbank.org".

DW5 further stated that during 39 years of his journalism practice, he had never been charged with seditious or defamatory offences.

Noting that all practicing journalists are not members of the GPU as alleged by PW2 and PW3, he told the court that he is not a member of the union.

DW5 further added that he was among the founding members of the GPU, when it was formed in 1979, and that he served as Treasurer then, that is from 1979 to the 1990s.

DW5 further stated that after becoming a Media Chief, he's naturally disqualified by the constitution of the union to be a member of the GPU, instead he could only be contacted for advice when members deem it fitting.

On whether he is aware of the charges leveled against him, he replied in the positive.

DW5 also testified that, he did not publish any seditious and defamatory material in the Point and Foroyaa Newspapers.

When cross-examined by Sam Sarr, as to whether he had at anytime before the arrest discussed the GPU's statement with him, DW5 responded in the negative. Asked whether before their arrest, he had made the statement available to him, DW5 again replied in the negative.

Sam Sarr further asked DW5, whether he had asked him to publish the said statement. In reply, he said said no.

When posed to him whether he knows Nian Sarang Jobe, DW5 replied "very well". Sam Sarr further quizzed where she is resident, DW5 said "she is in Dibba Kunda, in the Gambia".

Still elaborating, he said Nian Sarang Jobe had traveled out of the country to Senegal for medical treatment, that's when Hydara was killed on 16th December 2004. But, he said Nian came back in July 2005, and has since then been living in The Gambia.

When cross-examined by the Director of Public Prosecution, Richard Chenge, as to whether he is a founder member, and whether there was any formal registration, DW5 answered in the positive.

On whether there was naturally the name of members in the registrar, he replied "Yes".

At this point, Mr. Saine put it to the DPP that "anything he wants to know about the GPU must be referred to the Secretary-General of the union.

DPP further asked "Since you became a media chief, the name still remains there?" In reply, DW5 responded "I don't know".

DPP then asked "Did you go and erase your name?

In response, Mr. Saine said "GPU is a body of members and a registered organisation".

When put to him that whether by publishing the article, he intent that the people of the Gambia should read it. In response, he said as a publisher he only publishes material for the public to decide.

Asked whether GPU is hitting back to President's interview, Mr. Saine replied "that's your opinion."

Mr. Saine at this juncture raised an objection in the way and manner, in which DPP posed questions to him. As he put it, "DPP wanted to beat me down".

Furthermore, he said "I only published the article in the interest of democracy and press freedom as stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human and People's Rights, which the Gambia is a party".

He further adduced that he does not have any hatred for the President and the government of the Gambia.

On whether any GPU member came to him to disassociate himself from the article, he responded in the negative.

According to him, on that very day of June 15th 2009, when the paper came out in the morning he was at the Banjul Magistrates' Court to hear a judgment relating to his citizenship, in which he was acquitted and discharged.

In his testimony, Sam Sarr, the Managing Editor of Foroyaa Newspaper, said his names are Samuel Osseh Sarr, and that he lives at

No.1 Sambou Street
, in Churchill's Town.

Sam testified that he is a media practitioner and the Managing Editor of Foroyaa Newspaper. Sam Sarr adduced that the responsibility of what to publish and not to publish falls on him. He said apart from publishing, he also taught for 33 years and that he has been in the field of journalism since 1987.

He adduced that on Thursday 11 June 2009, he opened his email box and found a request for publication from Ndey Tapha-Sosseh, GPU's President.

"I examined the contents of the article and discovered it was a reaction to what the President said in an earlier interview with the GRTS," he added.

According to him, the interview had at length dealt with some allegations concerning the death of some Ghanians in the Gambia and at the same time the killing of Deyda Hydara.

The sixth accused explained that Foroyaa's office had recorded the President's interview with the GRTS. He also told the court that he has the recorded version of the video cassette, which he later tendered in court and marked as "Defence 6 exhibit A".

He further testified that Foroyaa also published a summary of the said interview in their edition No. 66/2009, dated 8-9 June 2009. 

"In that article titled President Jammeh's interview which dealt on the killings of Ghanians, as well as what was said on Deyda Hydara as at that time, the transcribed version of which was published in Foroyaa was done but not completed," he testified. The issue was then tendered and marked as Defence no. 6 exhibit B.

He testified that the President in that interview stated that he has nothing to do with the killing of Deyda Hydara.

According to him, Foroyaa Newspaper's approach was to ensure the publication of divergent views and dissenting opinions.

He further stated that when he received GPU's email from his inbox, he took it into account and reflected on certain statements that were made by the President.

He said the fact that Ndey Tapha Sosseh is the President of the GPU and that she's specifically concerned with the issue of Deyda Hydara, he thought it's unfair not to grant her access for the publication on a pertinent issue.

He adduced that he did not consider the publication to be a 'hit back' to the President, rather the President had expressed his views and Ndey Tapha Sosseh was also allowed to state her view as, according to him, this is what democracy is all about.

"What we expect on major issues of concern to the public should be handled through debate rather than otherwise," he stressed.

"I always work on the premise of God faith with public interest and pursuit of the truth," Sam Sarr added.

 "My Lord Newspapers have the responsibility to scrutinise the executive and occasionally such criticisms have effects, such as the publication relating to the collection of dues by some people who claimed that they were doing it for the July 22nd celebrations, but when this was criticised the authority issued a release to say that those who were doing it should desist from the practice. This, according to him, is the role of the media.

At this juncture, the sixth accused who is representing himself, urged the court to play the cassette to show the portion relating to Deyda Hydara.

Meanwhile, Sam Sarr proceeded to inform the court that on 15th June 2009, while he was teaching he was arrested by three NIA officers, led by PW2.

"I was taken to the NIA office until the time I was leaving. I had never been told the reason of my arrest neither I was told my right to access a legal practitioner," he explained.

He said on 16th June 2009, he was asked to write his statement and when he asked the reason of his arrest he was told that it was in connection with the publication, which was contained in exhibit A (Foroyaa Newspaper).

Sam Sarr informed the court that he is a publisher and he has not seen anything wrong with what he had published in the paper.

 He further stated that after reading the last paragraph of the article and after carefully considering that the statement is not seditious nor defamatory he decided to publish it. He adduced that, the issues which were raised in that interview and recorded in the video cassette are issues of concern to the author and as such, he decided to publish it.

He further testified that, if the cassette is played he would extract one or two statements of the interview.

Sam Sarr further tendered the transcribed version of the video cassette, which was marked as Defence No. 6 exhibit (c).

He testified that after reading the interview made by the President, he found out some inaccuracies in the interview. "I felt it necessary, in particular, this issue of the Senegalese and absence of the two ladies who were in the same vehicle with Deyda Hydara, and then asked myself the question whether the President was properly informed," he stated, adding that it was the same reason why he found it necessary to publish such.

DW6 further adduced that "I further asked myself a question whether the President was well-informed."

And then stated that by publishing such, the President of the Republic of the Gambia will have the opportunity to reflect and conduct necessary investigation.

"I publish in public interest, and the alleged defamatory and seditious article is really an expression of the GPU's President, which could serve as a valuable advice for the President and government of the Gambia," he added.

DW6 testified that before the publication of the alleged publication "I have discussed with nobody and nobody ever communicated to me apart from the email that was received from Ndey Tapha Sosseh; I have not forwarded the statement to any body, individual, a web site or newspaper; I simply published because that is my job."

"The charges are clear from my conduct and the circumstances of this case that I have no intention to bring hatred on contempt or to excite this disaffection against the people of the President and the government of the Gambia. In fact that is not my style. Hatred and division does not carry society forward, what is of value is the information for the public and ensuring the exercise of divergent views, to give meaning to the alleged defamatory statement that the statement is accusing the Gambia government and  the President as being responsible for the killing of Mr. Hydara is unreasonable," he told the court.

He further elucidated that at the time of the publication; he did not have any intention to defame the President or the government of the Republic of The Gambia, noting that the statement is not derogatory nor contentious and did not ridicule anyone.

(To be continued)