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Journalist denies charge of publishing "false information", places responsibility on editor

(MFWA/IFEX) - Lamin Fatty, a reporter with the banned Banjul-based bi-weekly "The Independent", who is standing trial at the Kanifing Magistrate's Court for publishing "false information", on 21 May 2007 denied ever publishing any "false information".

The journalist told the court that, as a reporter, he only gathered facts and submitted them to the editors who hold the ultimate responsibility for publishing.

Fatty told the court that he did not write the story "The Independent" published. The journalist said parts of a story he wrote and headlined: "An attempted foiled coup" came from a government press release sent to the editor.

Fatty said he was not responsible for the editorial of the 24-26 March 2006 edition of "The Independent" or any other edition.

He said the lead story of the publication, entitled "23 coup plotters arrested", was published by The Independent Media Company Limited, whose editor-in-chief was Musa Saidykhan, while the printer was Eagle Printing Service.

Fatty, who was arrested and detained for more than two months, told the court that he was not made aware of the reasons for his arrest until his first appearance in court on 12 June 2006.

Fatty is charged under Section 181 of the Criminal Code which in its amended form makes the publication of "false information" a criminal and punishable offence. He faces a minimum of one year in jail with an option of a fine of not less than 50,000 dalasis (approx. US$1,850), or both, if convicted.

The 24 March edition of "The Independent" erroneously reported Samba Bah, a former minister of the interior and former head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), as among those arrested in the aftermath of an alleged coup. The newspaper subsequently published Bah's rejoinder and also apologized to him.

The police soon after raided the offices of "The Independent" and arrested all staff members, including Madi Ceesay and Musa Saidykhan, general manager and editor, respectively. They have since been released without charge. Fatty was arrested by the Gambian police on 10 April and illegally detained for 63 days.

The case has been adjourned several times. On one occasion, the then Magistrate adjourned the trial to attend a private social event of friends. Fatty's lawyer, Lamin Camara, has consistently complained that the case has dragged on for too long.

The court adjourned the case to 22 May 2007.

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