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Gambia5 April 2007

US-based freelance journalist freed on bail after one week, charged with sedition

Reporters Without Borders called today on the Gambian authorities to drop “sedition” charges against freelance journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh, who was finally freed on bail yesterday. She had been held by the National Intelligence Agency ever since on her arrival at Banjul international airport on 28 March from the United States, where she has been resident for the past 10 years.

“This case reveals how the intolerant Gambian government uses repressive laws to disguise its desire for revenge,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After gagging journalists inside the country by means of arbitrary arrest and violence, the government is targeting those who are normally outside its grasp. It is now sending a threatening signal to all those who disagree with government policy and say so publicly.”

Manneh appeared yesterday before a court in Kanifing, 12 km outside the capital, where she was charged with “intention to commit sedition,” “publication of seditious words,” and “publication of false news intended to create public fear and alarm,” for which she could get a three-year prison sentence. The court freed her on bail of 25,000 dalasis (800 euros) and set trial for 11 April.

A former reporter with the privately-owned Daily Observer, Manneh currently contributes to the website. Among the articles she is being prosecuted for is an October 2005 one in which she accused President Yahya Jammeh of “tearing our beloved country to shreds” and called him “a bundle of terror.”

30.03.2007 Intelligence agents arrest journalist and opposition activist as she gets off plane

Reporters Without Borders called today for the release of freelance journalist and pro-democracy activist Fatou Jaw Manneh, who was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency on 28 March on her arrival at Banjul international airport.

“No warrants or court appearances, a disregard for legality and a complete lack of transparency - these are the hallmarks of the NIA, the president’s iron fist,” the press freedom organisation said. “Opposition to President Yahya Jammeh or the expression of dissident views has become a high-risk undertaking that can catapult anyone, especially journalists, into the lawless world of Gambia’s prisons.”

A resident of the United States for the past 10 years, Manneh was arrested as she disembarked from a flight from the Senegalese capital of Dakar with the intention of visiting her family. NIA officers arrested her after her presence was reported by a passenger. She was taken to NIA headquarters on Marina Parade, on the Banjul seafront. She has not been charged and the reasons for her arrest are not known.

A former reporter with the privately-owned Daily Observer, Manneh is well known for her pro-democracy activism. She writes for several websites and the “Save The Gambia Democracy Project,” an opposition movement.

In 2003, she wrote an article for The Independent (a daily newspaper that has been illegally closed by the authorities) that led to its editor, Abdoulie Sey, being illegally detained for three days. Headlined “Jammeh Under The Microscope,” it referred to Gambia’s endemic poverty and corruption and said Jammeh had “failed us all.”

Reporters Without Borders also reiterates its call for the immediate release of Daily Observer journalist “Chief” Ebrima Manneh, who went missing on 7 July. The opposition tri-weekly Foroyaa revealed in January that he was being held without trial at the police station of Fatoto, a small town 400 km east of the capital.

He was arrested for an unknown reason shortly after the African Union summit that was held in Banjul on 1-2 July. The independent press was accused of trying to spoil the summit and several of its journalists were arrested at the time.

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