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Magistrate says court has jurisdiction to hear case in setback for journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh

(MFWA/IFEX) - A magistrate in Kanifing, a district in Serrekunda, Gambia's largest city, ruled on 11 April 2007 that his court had the jurisdiction to hear a criminal case against US-based Gambian journalist, Fatou Jaw Manneh, after her lawyer argued that the case fell outside the court's jurisdiction.

Magistrate Buba Jawo disagreed with defence lawyer Lamin S Jobarteh's argument that, since the offence for which the journalist was charged was allegedly committed outside the jurisdiction of The Gambia, no Gambian court could try the case. The magistrate upheld state lawyers' submissions that the case should proceed.

Manneh, a former reporter for the pro-government "Daily Observer", was arrested at the Banjul International Airport on 28 March 2007 by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) personnel upon arrival from the United States, where she has resided for at least a decade. She was charged on three counts: "acting with seditious intention," contrary to section 52 (1) (a) of the Criminal Code; "publication of seditious words," contrary to section 52 (1) (c) of the Criminal Code; and "publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the Gambian public," contrary to section 59 (1) of the Criminal Code. Each count carries a maximum prison term of two years or a fine, or both.

Manneh was detained for one week at the NIA headquarters in Banjul upon arrest and arraigned before the court, which released her on bail of 25,000 dalasis (approx. US$900). Her travel documents were confiscated by the NIA.

Manneh has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. The case resumes on 12 April 2007.

Manneh is being prosecuted for an article she wrote for the All-Gambian website ( http://www.allgambian.net ) in October 2005, in which she accused President Yahya Jammeh of "tearing our beloved country to shreds" and called him "a bundle of terror."

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