Reporter Lamin Fatty of the Banjul-based biweekly The Independent was released on bail yesterday by a court in Kanifing, 10 km outside Banjul, pending trial on charges of “false news.” The trial was set for 27 June.
“The Gambian courts should not let themselves be accomplices to the abuses of the security services,” the press freedom organisation said. "Fatty should be acquitted, if for no other reason then for all the many procedural irregularities surrounding his case."
The charges against him were not read out when he appeared in court yesterday. He told the court he was held for more than two months by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) without being able to see his family or a lawyer. Insisting he was “guilty of no crime,” he requested postponement of his trial so that he could hire a lawyer. The court ordered his release on payment of 50,000 dalasis (1,300 euros) in bail.
One journalist is still illegally detained in Gambia. It is Malick Mboob, a former reporter with the privately-owned Daily Observer who was arrested on 26 May after someone hacked into the website of the opposition Freedom Newspaper and obtained a list of subscribers, which was published by a pro-government newspaper. He is being held at NIA headquarters in Banjul and was not informed of the charges against him within the 72-hour deadline set by the law.
12 April 2006 - Third journalist with The Independent arrested
A third journalist with the privately-owned biweekly The Independent, Lamin M. Fatty, was arrested at his home today, two weeks after the Criminal Investigation Department closed down the newspaper on 28 March and arrested its managing director, Madi Ceesay, and editor, Musa Saydikhan, who are still being held at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
“The list of detained journalists is getting longer,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Gambian government does what it likes, without any pretense of legality. How far will it be able to go before it has to face a real protest from the member states of the African Union, whose next summit Gambia is supposed to host?”
The press freedom organisation added: “In cases such as this, press solidarity is decisive and we therefore call on the African media to make President Yahya Jammeh see that what is going on in Banjul is causing concern abroad.”
It was Fatty’s byline that appeared on an article headlined “23 coup plotters arrested” that appeared in The Independent’s 24 March issue. A Gambian source who asked not to be identified had told Reporters Without Borders on 4 April that Ceesay and Saidykhan were arrested because of this article, which named 23 people who had supposedly been arrested for their alleged participation in an abortive coup on 21 March.
Those named in the report included Samba Bah, a former interior minister and former head of the NIA, whose angry denial of the report’s accuracy was published in the 27 March issue under the headline, “I have not been arrested,” together with the newspaper’s apology. The NIA is thought to have been trying to get Ceesay and Saidykhan to reveal who told them Bah was arrested as a member of the 21 March conspiracy.
Ceesay is also president of the Gambia Press Union, the country’s leading journalists’ union.