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In a landmark decision, an African regional court has ordered the Gambian authorities to immediately release a journalist who has been held incommunicado for nearly two years, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 5 June, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria declared the arrest and detention of "Chief" Ebrima Manneh illegal and ordered the Gambian authorities to immediately release him.

The court also awarded Manneh US$100,000 in damages against the Gambian government.

Manneh, a journalist at the "Daily Observer" newspaper, was arrested in Banjul in July 2006 by national intelligence officers, a week after he allegedly passed on "damaging" information at an African Union summit. He has been held incommunicado ever since.

President Yahya Jammeh's regime has consistently denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, and has demonstrated "gross disrespect" for the ECOWAS court by refusing to cooperate throughout the proceedings by not showing up, says MFWA, which filed the legal action.

MFWA, CPJ and RSF are calling on the Gambia to respect the decision and to free Manneh immediately.

Manneh is one of many Gambian journalists who have either been arrested and tortured by President Jammeh's government or forced to flee the country, especially in the wake of a failed coup attempt in 2006.

His situation has led MFWA and other human rights groups within and around West Africa to fight violent attacks on free expression and impunity in the Gambia - through the courts. According to MFWA, Manneh's case at the ECOWAS court is the first time that the media has taken an African government to court on a continental and sub-regional level.

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- RSF:
(10 June 2008)

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