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Gambia

Key Developments

» Arbitrary detentions, harassment stifle voices of independent journalists.

» Government stiffens criminal laws on press, Internet activities.

The government of President Yahya Jammeh sought to tighten its grip on the already weak independent press with detentions, criminal prosecutions, and the introduction of more repressive legislation. The National Intelligence Agency arbitrarily detained at least three reporters in connection with their work for prolonged periods of time. One remained in detention in late year. Authorities announced their intention to re-introduce statutory regulation of the press with a government-run Media Commission and criminalized online dissidence by passing a law imposing a harsh prison sentence on any individual, living in the country or abroad, who uses the Internet to criticize public officials. No new information surfaced on the whereabouts of journalist Ebrima “Chief” Manneh, who disappeared after being arrested by agency officers seven years ago. The government has made contradicting claims about Manneh’s whereabouts and health over the years, and has not complied with various international rulings ordering his release.



  • 144

    Hours of detention
  • 3

    Million dalasis fine
  • 5

    Years in prison
  • 7th

    Year of disappearance
 

National Intelligence agents arrested Pa Sulay Jadama on June 20 at the Banjul Magistrates’ Court. The freelance photographer had been taking pictures of a former lawyer and former attorney general outside the court, where they stood trial on criminal charges.

The agents detained Jadama incommunicado for six days, but denied having custody of him. They released him on June 26. The agents seized his camera's data card and told him to remain silent about his detention.


Other detentions by National Intelligence Agency:

3 days:

Abdoulie John, editor of the news website Jollof News, was detained on January 7 and held for three days. Local journalists said Jollof News, which is blocked in the country, has often reported critically about the government.

22 days:

Fatou Camara, a TV host and broadcast journalist, was detained on September 17 and accused of “espionage and breach of national security” amid allegations that she was “passing information to the international media that was critical of [President] Jammeh.” She was released on October 10.
 

In July, the Gambian parliament passed an amendment to Article 173 of the 2009 Information and Communication Act to include a 15-year prison sentence and a fine of 3 million dalasis (about US$100,000) for any individual convicted of using the Internet to criticize government officials.

The law punishes a broad range of activities, including online criticism, cartoons, and satire. The penalties apply to individuals living in the country or abroad.


Components of Article 173:

Article 173A:

Bans spreading false news against the government or public officials;

Article 173B

Prohibits information that incites dissatisfaction or instigates violence against the government or public officials;

Article 173C

Bans caricature, abuse, or derogatory statements against the person or character of officials;

Article 173D

Forbids the impersonation of any public official.
 

In April, the parliament amended the country’s criminal code to stiffen criminal penalties for existing offenses. Under the new code, journalists face up to five years in prison for publishing what authorities consider false information.

The amendment also widened the scope of other perceived objectionable behavior under a series of broad, vaguely worded offenses that authorities could interpret to sanction legitimate news operations, according to CPJ research.

Repressive laws:

Newspaper Registration Act (2004)
Newspaper Amendment Act (2004)
Criminal Code Amendment Act (2013)
Amended Amended Information and Communication Act (2013)

 

Agents with the National Intelligence Agency arrested Ebrima “Chief” Manneh, a former reporter for the Daily Observer, in his newsroom on July 7, 2006. He has not been heard from for seven years.

Authorities have provided conflicting and incomplete information regarding the journalist’s status. They have denied having any knowledge of his whereabouts despite eyewitness accounts and international appeals calling for his release.


Contradicting claims:

April 6, 2009

Attorney General Marie Saine Firdaus denies Manneh is in government custody.

March 16, 2011

Jammeh refers to Manneh's "death": "The government has nothing to do with the death of Chief Manneh."

September 20, 2011

Gambian Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy tells CPJ: “We didn't arrest him. ... We don't know--I cannot answer, because I don't know. ... There are people who die in the desert--anything can happen to anybody."

October 6, 2011

Justice Minister Edward Gomez declares that Manneh is alive: "I can tell you that Ebrima Chief Manneh is alive.”

May 22, 2012

Yankuba Sonko, Gambia’s inspector general of police, claims that Manneh is alive in America: “The latest information we received from Interpol is that he was seen in America, and that is it.”



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