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Freelance journalist gets four years in prison or heavy fine for criticising president

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders "energetically condemns" the sentence of four years in prison or a fine of 250,000 dalasis (approx. 8,000 euros), which a Banjul court passed on 18 August 2008 on Fatou Jaw Manneh, a contributor to the AllGambian.net website, after convicting her of "sedition" for criticising President Yahya Jammeh in a 2005 article.

"This verdict was not the outcome of due process, it was the result of the president's personal desire for revenge," Reporters Without Borders said. "It highlights the authoritarian nature of a ruler who despises the press and uses the police and judicial system for his personal ends. We are relieved that Manneh was able to raise the money for the fine and thereby avoid imprisonment, and we reiterate our solidarity with Gambia's journalists."

Concluding proceedings that had dragged on for more than a year, a court in the Banjul district of Kanifing presided by judge Buba Jawo found Manneh guilty of intention to commit sedition, publication of "seditious words" and publication of "false news intended to create public fear and alarm."

After imposing the prison sentence, the judge offered the alternative "option" of a fine that had to be paid before the end of the day. Local sources said Manneh managed to raise the amount and will therefore not have to go to prison.

Manneh normally resides in the United States but has not been able return there since she was arrested on landing at Banjul international airport on 28 March 2007. The purpose of her trip to Gambia was to visit her family, which was in mourning.

A former reporter for the privately-owned "Daily Observer", she was tried for an AllGambian.net ( http://wwww.AllGambian.net ) article in October 2005 in which she accused President Jammeh of "tearing our beloved country to shreds" and described him as "a bundle of terror."

Jammeh has been on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Predators of Press Freedom" since 2005. The list is updated each year.

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