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U.S. senator again presses Gambia on missing journalist

Amnesty International campaigns in front of U.S. Congress. (Ilona Kelly)

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin sent a letter to Gambia's justice minister, Edward Gomez, renewing his appeal for the release of local journalist Ebrima "Chief" Manneh. Manneh disappeared more than five years ago after security agents seized him at the offices of his newspaper, the Daily Observer.

"I ask that you immediately provide any information regarding Manneh's location and condition," Durbin wrote. His letter was prompted by Gomez's public statement last month indicating Manneh was alive, that the government knew his whereabouts, and that his case would be discussed "later." The comments, made by Gomez in an interview with a local newspaper, contradicted a public reference to the journalist's death by President Yahya Jammeh in March. For the most of the past five years, Gambian officials have denied any knowledge of Manneh's whereabouts and any government role in his disappearance.

Durbin, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights as well as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a similar letter to Jammeh in March 2010.

In a separate letter to U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, Durbin urged the U.K. government "to continue to press the Gambian government to respect its international commitments as a member of both the U.N. and the [British] Commonwealth." "I similarly ask that you proceed...in cooperation with the British Foreign Office in an agreed-upon investigation of Mr. Manneh's disappearance," Durbin urged Gomez.

Last month, while addressing the Banjul-based African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR), Gomez declared: "There is need for a courageous, vigilant and outspoken legal fraternity and defenders in many parts of the continent, that is to say, people who are not afraid to speak out against human rights abuses in order to protect the weak and the vulnerable." This declaration was made as the opening statement at the 50th Ordinary Session of ACHPR. In his letter, Durbin reminded Gomez that such words "will ring hollow in Gambia and around the world," if they aren't enacted in Ebrima Manneh's case.

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