On 28 March 2006, Musa Saidykhan, Editor-In Chief of The Independent newspaper, was arrested and detained by Gambian police. Saidykhan was taken to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), along with the Newspaper's managing director Madi Ceesay and other staff members simultaneously arrested.
During his detention, Musa was subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, including the use of torture to the point of unconsciousness, which left him severely scarred on his back, legs and arms, and his right hand broken in three places. Musa was held incommunicado – his family and friends all denied access – with no formal charges ever being laid.
On 7 July 2006, plainclothes officers from the NIA arrested another journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, with the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, at his office in Banjul. It is believed that Manneh was arrested for passing “damaging” information to a BBC journalist during an African Union meeting, along with trying to republish a BBC story criticising President Yahya Jammeh's coup to power as undemocratic.
During the year following his arrest, Manneh was spotted multiple times with prison police and NIA officials as he was transferred between various police stations and detention centres. Despite these reports and overwhelming eyewitness testimony and other evidence collected by his colleagues and civil society, the government has repeatedly denied ever taking him into custody.
Both incidents occurred during a crackdown on the media following the government's announcement of a foiled coup in March 2006. The coup was used as an excuse to arrest, intimidate and harass scores of journalists and media workers in the lead-up to national elections.
In the years that followed, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) brought lawsuits against the Gambia at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice on behalf of both Saidykhan and Manneh. The Court found that The Gambia had violated Musa Saidykhan's human rights and ordered the government to pay US$200,000 in compensatory damages. In the case of Ebrima Manneh, the Gambia was ordered to release Manneh and pay his family damages of US$100,000. However, the Gambian government has yet to comply with these judgments and no reparations have been paid. Ebrima Manneh's fate today remains unknown.
Timeline of Events
On 28 March 2006, Gambian security forces arrest Musa Saidykhan and a number of his colleagues from The Independent newspaper. A few hours later, all the detainees but Saidykhan and Madi Ceesay are released. During his detention, Musa was held incommunicado and subjected to brutal torture, including beatings with sticks and electric shocks to vulnerable parts of his body.
On 20 April, the Gambian Police release Musa Saidykhan and Madi Ceesay after 3 weeks in detention at Gambia’s NIA headquarters in Banjul. They were not charged with any crime and were granted bail to the sum of 200,000 Gambian dalasis (then equivalent of US$ 7,400).
On 16 May, following constant harassment and surveillance by persons believed to be from the NIA, Musa Saidykhan and his wife escape from The Gambia to Senegal with assistance from Amnesty International.
On 7 July, Ebrima Manneh is arrested and detained by the NIA. No reason for the journalist’s arrest and subsequent detention at NIA Headquarters is given. Manneh is not seen or heard from for the next 6 months.
On 12 January, after 188 days in secret detention, local media reports sightings of Manneh as he is repeatedly transferred between detention centres across the country, before finally disappearing again to an unknown location. Manneh’s family still has had no contact with him and the NIA continues to deny having him in their custody.
On 21 February, after 8 months in secret detention, in response to the demands of the MFWA and other human rights organisations for the release of Chief Ebrima Manneh, the Gambia Police Force officially denies having Manneh in their custody.
The Media Foundation for West Africa files a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice to compel the Gambian authorities to release Chief Ebrima Manneh. In its application on behalf of Manneh, the MFWA seeks a declaration that the arrest of Chief Ebrima Manneh is illegal and in violation of a number of his rights as guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, including his right to personal liberty. In addition, the application seeks a court order mandating that the Gambian state immediately release Manneh from custody.
On 31 May, the Gambian government is officially served a legal summons through its High Commission in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, where the Court is sitting. However, without notification or explanation to the Court, the Gambian government fails to file a defence within the 30-day period stipulated. On 14 July, The ECOWAS Court serves the Gambian government with a hearing notice through its High Commission in Abuja on 14 July 2007.
On 16 July 2007, the government of the Gambia fails to make an appearance at the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja, Nigeria to answer charges that they had violated the rights of Ebrima Manneh. The Court adjourns the case to 26 September 2007, to give the government a chance to make an appearance.
On 17 July, The newly formed Network of Human Rights Journalists (NHRJ), a local human rights advocacy group, organises a symposium to mark the anniversary of Manneh’s disappearance and to sustain local and international pressure on the government of President Yahya Jammeh to have him unconditionally released. The symposium, themed “Guarantee to Freedom of the Press in the Gambia,” also demands an end to impunity for attacks against journalists and media in the country. The NHRJ invites three government officials to address the forum, including the Attorney General, the Inspector General of Police of Gambia, and Saja Taal, Managing Director of the Daily Observer and close confidante of President Jammeh, who had also been accused of masterminding Manneh’s arrest. None of the three officials appear at the symposium.
On 26 July, Chief Ebrima Manneh is seen at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital (RVTH), the largest hospital in the Gambia, where he had been hospitalized for treatment of high blood pressure. MFWA’s sources report that Manneh was seen in the company of personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU), a paramilitary wing of the Gambian Police Force and Prison Service. The sources said Manneh, who was very weak at the time, had briefly been admitted to the hospital before being transferred to a military clinic in Banjul.
The ECOWAS Community Court announces that its judgment will be heard on 20 November. However, the Gambian government again fails to appear, despite being duly served with the hearing notice through the Court’s High Commission in Abuja. The Community Court of ECOWAS slates its judgment in the case of the “disappearance” of Chief Ebrima Manneh for 31 January 2008. A panel of three judges make the decision after hearing the final submission from Manneh’s lawyer, Femi Falana. On 26 November 2007, The Court heard testimonies from three witnesses, one of who testified that he witnessed the arrest of Chief Manneh by NIA personnel on the premises of the Daily Observer. Another witness testified that he saw Manneh in December 2006 at a Police Station in Fatoto, Gambia’s last eastern town, about 500 kilometres from the capital, Banjul.
On 19 November 2007, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) files a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice on behalf of Saidykhan, after his decision to flee the country the previous year. Through the suit, MFWA seeks justice for Musa and to provide a beacon of support for many other Gambian journalists who have suffered a similar fate and now live in exile.
On 5 June, After consistently denying any knowledge of Chief Ebrima Manneh’s whereabouts, and demonstrating gross disrespect for the ECOWAS Court by refusing to cooperate throughout the proceedings, the government of President Yayah Jammeh is ordered to immediately release Chief Ebrima Manneh, who had been illegally held incommunicado for nearly two years. The court also asks the Gambian authorities to pay Manneh US$100,000 as compensation. The judgment is given in absentia, as the Gambian government continues to refuse to show up.
On 6 April 2009, Marie Saine Farduas, then Gambia’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, makes the first official public statement denying that the state played any part in Manneh’s disappearance. The minister was responding to questions from Gambian legislators on the government’s failure to respect the ECOWAS judgement.
On 30 July, the ECOWAS Community Court rules against the Gambian Government’s attempt to dismiss Saidykhan’s case based on the government’s claims that the court had no jurisdiction and that Saidykhan had not exhausted all local remedies.
On 31 August Following the Saidykhan suit against the Gambia, the state sends a proposal to ECOWAS to restrict access to the Community Court by creating amendments to the treaty it was created under that would limit the court’s jurisdiction. However the proposal is widely condemned by ECOWAS member states and unanimously defeated by the ECOWAS Council of Justice Ministers.
On 15 December 2009, The ECOWAS Community Court adjourns the case until 23 February 2010 to enable the counsel of Saidykhan to reply to the submission made by the Gambian government.
On 7 July, the ECOWAS Community Court again adjourns the hearing of Musa Saidykhan’s torture case to 21 September 2010 to enable the Gambian government to respond to amendments filed by Saidykhan’s counsel. His counsel had filed a motion asking the court for leave to amend their earlier brief and enable Musa to produce additional material evidence, including the clothing he had worn in detention and his medical records at the time.
On 21 October in Abuja, Nigeria, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice dismisses the objection raised by the Gambian authorities against allowing additional material evidence to be considered. This ruling meant that the court would consider in its judgment the clothing that Saidykhan wore during his torture ordeal, as well as his medical records, which he had submitted during previous testimony.
On 16 December 2010, the regional court confirms that President Yahya Jammeh’s security agents had tortured Saidykhan in 2006 while he was in detention at the NIA. It also rules that Saidykhan’s arrest and subsequent detention were illegal and violated his right to personal liberty and a fair hearing as guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The ECOWAS court awards Saidykhan damages of US$200,000.
On 31 March, the Gambian Government files a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court asking the Court to review its rulings on the Saidykhan and Manneh cases. The Gambian authorities state in their applications that they are “dissatisfied” with both judgements. According to the application, the Gambian authorities claimed there was a “miscarriage of justice since the court failed to properly appraise the evidence on record,” in the case of Musa Saidykhan. They also complained that the award of “US$200,000 to the Plaintiff (Saidykhan) is outrageous since there is no evidence on record to show the basis upon which the amount was calculated”. Issues were also raised with the fact that the compensation was determined in USD and not the Gambian Dalasi “given that the plaintiff is a citizen and at all times a resident of The Gambia.”
On 6 February, The ECOWAS Community Court orders the Gambian government to comply with it’s ruling on Musa Saidykahn, dismissing the request for review by the Gambian authorities on the grounds that there was no new evidence to justify their objection. After reviewing the case of disappeared journalist Ebrima Manneh ruled in favour of the Gambia after the state claimed per its constitution, persons can only be declared missing after 7 years. The Court however maintained that the Gambia should pay the compensation and produce Manneh when the seven years elapses.
On 1 December 2016, President Yahya Jammeh was defeated by the opposition coalition party led by Adama Barrow, despite bans on protests, security force intimidation, and a telecommunications shutdown on the day of the election.
NEW UPDATEMFWA Conducts Media-Assessment Mission under new Government
In March 2017, the MFWA conducted a media-assessment mission to the Gambia with the issue of impunity for past abuses under the Jammeh regime, including the cases of Saidykhan and Manneh, high on the agenda. During this time, President Adama Barrow indicated his commitment to press freedom and addressing crimes against journalists in the country.
What IFEX Members Are Doing
The Media Foundation for West Africa has consistently called on the Gambian government to comply with the ruling of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice through appeals and campaigns organised by MFWA with other civil society and free expression groups in West Africa. Currently, MFWA is conducting strategic litigation at the ECOWAS Court to ensure the Gambia's compliance and is working with ECOWAS officials to find strategies to address the issue of impunity in the region.
ARTICLE 19 has been active in demanding justice for Musa Saidykhan and Ebrima Manneh and conducted advocacy at the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging the government to honour the ECOWAS judgments and calling for the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the Gambia, among other measures to improve freedom of expression in the country.
Reporters Without Borders routinely highlights Manneh's case, and in 2015, submitted an application to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, urging them to open investigations into Ebrima Manneh's case. The UN Special Procedures have previously been denied access to detention facilities during their visit.
More Resources & Information
Human Rights Violations in The Gambia under President JammehAfrica Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) 13 November 2014
This is a compilation of human rights violations recorded in The Gambia between 2010-2013 The report lists incidents of human rights violations such as extra judicial killing, torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and arbitrary arrests and detentions. The reports give a brief narration of each incident and identify victims of the violations.
A new dawn for free expression: country profile of the GambiaAfrica 28 August 2017
After years of despotic rule, former president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, was ousted from power following a general election in December 2016. Our No Impunity profile examines the new environment for media and civil society and hopes for an end to impunity for past abuses.