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Newspaper journalist convicted for publishing false information

(MFWA/IFEX) - Lamin Fatty, a reporter for the banned Banjul-based "The Independent" newspaper charged with publishing false information, was on June 5, 2007 convicted and fined 50,000 Gambian Dalasi (approx. US$1,850).

The Kanfing Magistrate Court ruled that the prosecution had proved its case beyond any reasonable doubt and that the journalist was guilty of false publication.

MFWA sources reported that if Fatty who has been unemployed following the illegal closure of the "Independent" newspaper defaults on the payment of the fine he will go to jail for a year.

According to the sources, Fatty's lawyer, Lamin Camara, will appeal the verdict.

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

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 apologised to him.

The police soon thereafter raided the offices of "The Independent" and arrested all staff members, including Madi Ceesay and Musa Saidykhan, general manager and editor-in-chief, respectively. They have since been released without charge. Fatty was arrested by the Gambian police on 10 April 2006 and was illegally detained for 63 days.

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

The MFWA condemns the increasingly high-handed use of the law to criminalise speech and expression in the Gambia.

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