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MFWA urges ECOWAS leaders to pressure President Jammeh to respect court order to release journalist

(MFWA/IFEX) - The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is asking the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), meeting for the 34th Ordinary Summit in Abuja, particularly its current chairman, President Blaisé Compoare, to ensure that the government of President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia releases detained Gambian journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, unconditionally.

Following a suit filed by MFWA to the ECOWAS court to compel the government of The Gambia to free Manneh, on 5 June 2008 the court ordered that Manneh be released and paid compensation for the violation of his human rights.

In its decision, the ECOWAS court dismissed claims from The Gambian side that Manneh was never in their custody.

The court also awarded damages in the sum of US$100,000 in favour of Manneh from The Gambian government.

The ECOWAS court stated that it "has found that the applicant [Manneh] was arrested on July 11, 2006 by the Police Force of The Gambia and has since been detained incommunicado, and without being charged".

Characteristic of The Gambian authorities, three weeks after the court's pronouncement, they have fallen silent on the matter.

Manneh has been in detention since he was arrested on 7 July 2006 by agents of the notoriously feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in the presence of his colleagues on the premises of the pro-government "Daily Observer" newspaper. Manneh's detention is claimed to be related to information he allegedly leaked to a foreign journalist who wrote a feature article on the African Union summit held in Banjul.

Of great concern is the fact that, although the journalist has been sighted several times, the last time being on 27 July 2007, the government has consistently refused to acknowledge detaining him. It has also not made any official statement on the case; neither has it made any attempt at investigating the circumstances leading to Manneh's "disappearance".

On 9 January 2005, President Jammeh was among 15 heads of state who signed a supplementary protocol amending the 1991 Protocol on the Community Court of Justice to include trial of human rights violations of citizens.

The Gambian government also refused to appear before the court. Five state agents who were alleged to have played various roles in the arrest and subsequent detention of Manneh also refused to appear before the court.

The position of the government of The Gambia is likely to have far-reaching and potentially dangerous implications for human rights in West Africa. Therefore MFWA feels it is incumbent on the government of President Jammeh to honour the recommendations of the protocol and respect the orders of the regional court.

MFWA is appealing to free expression organisations to put pressure on President Jammeh to ensure the release of Manneh and improve on the human rights situation in The Gambia.

Updates the Manneh case:

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