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Convicted journalist briefly detained for failure to pay fine, later released following press union's intervention

(MFWA/IFEX) - Lamin Fatty, a reporter with the banned newspaper "The Independent", who was convicted of publishing false information, has filed an appeal at a High Court in Banjul against his conviction.

MFWA sources indicated that Lamin S. Camara, counsel for Fatty, appealed against the ruling immediately after the judge delivered it on 5 June 2007.

The Kanfing District Magistrate Court, presided over by Buba Jawo, convicted and fined Fatty, who has been unemployed for more than a year, 50,000 Gambian Dalasi (approx. US$1,850), or a year's imprisonment in default.

MFWA sources said due to Fatty's inability to pay the fine, he was taken to Mile Two Central Prison in the outskirts of Banjul and detained for about three hours. He was released after the Gambia Press Union (GPU) paid the fine.

GPU President Madi Cessay slammed the court's ruling. "It is not good for the country's image. Gambia already ranks second in the league table of countries with bad press freedom record," he lamented.

Cessay further disclosed that the GPU would soon challenge all repressive media laws in the country's courts.

Fatty made his first appearance in court on 12 June 2006 after he was arrested and held incommunicado for more than two months, far in excess of the 72 hours stipulated in the 1997 Gambian Constitution for citizens to be detained without trial.

In its 24-26 March 2006 edition, "The Independent" erroneously reported that Samba Bah, a former functionary of the Gambian government, was among a number of people arrested by the government in the wake of a purported coup attempt. Following Bah's denial, the newspaper retracted the story and apologized to him.

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

On 27 July, Bah could not convince the court that he had good reason to not institute a civil suit against "The Independent" when he was not satisfied with the apology.

Defence lawyer Camara pointed out that it was strange that Bah was serving as a state witness and not as the complainant. Bah, however, replied, "It could be both. I could have gone to a civil court if I so wished and the government, too, can take the matter to court."

The case which lasted for 12 months saw several adjournments, prompting Fatty's lawyer to consistently complain that it was dragging on for too long.

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