Reporters Without Borders energetically condemns the sentence of a year in prison or “optional” fine of 1,850 dollars (1,375 euros) which a magistrate’s court in the town of Kanifing today imposed on reporter Lamin Fatty for getting facts wrong in a story for the now banned, privately-owned biweekly The Independent.
“Fatty was already held illegally for two months in this case,” the press freedom organisation said. “His publisher and his editor were also held for several weeks in a completely illegal fashion. Pay up or be imprisoned, this is the threat that President Yahya Jammeh now wants to hold over his country’s press.”
A court headed by judge Buba Jawo convicted Fatty over a 24 March 2006 report in The Independent headlined “23 ‘coup plotters’ arrested.” It listed the names of 23 well-known figures who had supposedly been arrested in connection with an abortive coup attempt three days earlier. One of the persons named was Samba Bah, a former interior minister and former head of the National Intelligence Agency.
An enraged Bah immediately informed the newspaper he had not been arrested and his denial was published on 27 March 2006 under the headline “I have not been arrested” together with the apologies of the newspaper’s management.
Despite the prominent retraction and apology, publisher Madi Ceesay (who is also president of the Gambia Press Union, the country’s biggest journalists’ union) and editor Musa Saidykhan were arrested the next day after criminal investigation police raided the offices of the newspaper and the placed a seal over the entrance.
Ceesay and Saidykhan were released on 20 April 2006, four days after the arrest of Fatty, who was held until 12 June 2006. Despite the absence of any judicial order, The Independent continues to be closed and has not brought out a single issue for the past 14 months.
Deyda Hydara, Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders correspondent and co-editor of The Point, an independent triweekly, was murdered on 16 December 2004, a day after parliament adopted two laws which he had criticised for curbing press freedom. It was these laws that were used to convict Fatty today. Until now, the Gambian authorities have never made any serious attempt to identify Hydara’s killers.