14 August 2009

GMB 001 / 0609 / OBS 088.1 Sentencing / Arbitrary detention

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and expresses its deepest concern regarding the following situation in The Gambia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary detention and heavy fines imposed on six trade union leaders and journalists following the issue of a statement by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) calling on President Yahya Jammeh to accept his Government’s responsibility in the 2004 murder of Mr. Deyda Hydara, Editor of The Point, the country’s only independent daily[1].

According to the information received, on August 6, 2009, Mr. Emil Touray, Ms. Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Mr. Pa Modou Faal, respectively GPU Secretary General, Vice-President and Treasurer, Messrs. Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, Publisher and Editor of The Point newspaper respectively, as well as Mr. Sam Sarr, Editor of the Foroyaa opposition newspaper, were convicted and sentenced by Banjul High Court to two years’ imprisonment and to a 250,000 Dalasis (about 6,625 Euros) fine each upon charges of “sedition” and “defamation”. Messrs. Ebrima Sawaneh and Mr. Pap Saine are also GPU members.

The Gambia Press Union immediately announced its intention to lodge an appeal before the Gambian Court of Appeal.

As of issuing this urgent appeal, they remained detained at Mile Two State Central Prison.

The Observatory was further informed that while the trial was ongoing, President Jammeh had issued direct threats to journalists and others “hiding behind freedom of expression”. On July 21, he indeed qualified “those calling themselves journalists” as “rat pieces” and asserted that they would be “dealt with to the letter”.

Background information:

On June 15, 2009, Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Mr. Emil Touray and Mr. Pa Modou Faal were summoned by the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in Banjul for questioning in relation to the statement published by the GPU in The Point and Foroyaa on June 12. They were subsequently arrested.

The GPU statement that prompted their arrest criticised Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in relation to comments he had made on June 8 on Government television GRTS, denying any State implication in the murder of prominent Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara, which remains unpunished as of today. The GPU statement also denounced numerous instances of harassment and intimidation of journalists by the Gambian authorities, and deplored the state of media freedom in the country.

Furthermore, four other journalists were also arrested by NIA officers in plain clothes on June 15, namely Mr. Sam Sarr, Mr. Abubakar Saidykhan, Foroyaa reporter, Mr. Ebrima Sawaneh and Mr. Pap Saine.

On June 18, 2009, the seven journalists appeared at Kanifing police court and were subsequently charged with “seditious publication”. Messrs. Emil Touray, Pa Modou Fall, Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, Sam Sarr and Abubakar Saidykhan were then imprisoned in Banjul’s Mile Two jail. Only Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, mother of a young child, was released on a bail of 200,000 Dalasis.

On June 22, 2009, Messrs. Emil Touray, Pa Modou Fall, Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, Sam Sarr and Abubakar Saidykhan were brought to Kanifing police court in the Banjul suburbs and all were bailed in the sum of 200,000 Dalasis.

On July 3, 2009, the seven journalists were summoned to appear before Banjul High Court, charged with the initial charges of sedition and three other counts of defamation. The Court then revoked their initial bail conditions, and sent them back to Mile Two State Central Prisons. Hours later, Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba was released with a bail of 400,000 Dalasis (about 10,600 Euros).

On July 6, Messrs. Emil Touray, Pa Modou Fall, Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, Sam Sarr and Abubakar Saidykhan were released on bail of 400,000 Dalasis.

On July 28, Mr. Abubakar Saidy Khan was acquitted and discharged over “wrong” charges by the High Court. He was initially arrested for taking photos of his editor being arrested but charged with same counts of sedition and defamation.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of The Gambia to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Mr. Emil Touray, Mr. Pa Modou Faal, Mr. Sam Sarr, Mr. Abubakar Saidy Khan, Mr. Ebrima Sawaneh and Mr. Pap Saine, as well as all human rights defenders in The Gambia;

ii. Release Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Mr. Emil Touray, Mr. Pa Modou Faal, Mr. Sam Sarr, Mr. Ebrima Sawaneh and Mr. Pap Saine immediately and unconditionally since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba and Messrs. Emil Touray, Pa Modou Faal, Sam Sarr, Ebrima Sawaneh and Pap Saine, as well as against all journalists and human rights defenders in the Gambia, and ensure in all circumstances that they be able to carry out their work without hindrances;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as with Article 12.2 (“the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”);

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by The Gambia.

Addresses:

* Captain (retd.) Alhaji Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh , President and Minister of Defence, Office of the President, State House, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia. Fax: +220 4227 034. mail: info@statehouse.gm.
* Mrs. Marie Saine Firdaus, Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice, Department of State for Justice, Marina Parade, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia. Fax: +220 4225 352
* Mr. Ousman Sonko, Secretary of State for the Interior, Office of the President, State House, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia. Fax: +220 4223 718
* Ambassador Mr. Moses Benjamin Jallow, Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the United Nations in Geneva, c/o Embassy of the Republic of The Gambia, 117, rue Saint Lazare, 75008 Paris, France. Fax: +33 1 53 04 05 99. Email: ambgambia_france117@hotmail.com

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of The Gambia in your respective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, August 10, 2009

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

* E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
* Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
* Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] See Observatory Annual Report 2005.
Last Update 18 August 2010
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