Lagos, Nigeria, January 14, 2014--Gambian authorities should drop the charges against two journalists who have been held since Monday on accusations of giving false information, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
State security agents arrested Musa Sheriff, a Liberian citizen and editor of the thrice-weekly independent newspaper The Voice, and Sainey Marenah, a freelance journalist, and charged them under the criminal code with "providing false information to a public officer," local journalists told CPJ. Police said they were acting on orders from President Yahya Jammeh, news reports said.
If convicted under this charge, the journalists face five years in jail and/or a fine of 50,000 dalasi (about US$1,515), according to news reports. They have been denied bail.
Sheriff and Marenah were arrested in connection with a Voice story that Marenah wrote, which was published in early December 2013 and called "19 Green Youths Defect to UDP," according to news reports. The story discussed a claim by the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) that 19 youth supporters of President Jammeh, known as "Green Youths," had defected from the ruling political party and joined the UDP.
The ruling party dismissed the claim as baseless, The Voice said in a subsequent edition, according to news reports.
"The charges against Musa Sheriff and Sainey Marenah are a reminder that the Gambian government is determined to stamp out criticism and crush the independent press," said Peter Nkanga, CPJ's West Africa consultant. "We call on authorities to withdraw all charges and release the two journalists immediately."