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Seven journalists rearrested for defaming President Jammeh

(MFWA/IFEX) - The trial of seven journalists and executive members of the Gambian Press Union (GPU) accused of publishing with "seditious intention" will continue at a High Court in Banjul instead of the Kanifing court where the trial began. On July 1, 2009, the accused, four newspaper journalists and three executives of the GPU, were summoned to appear on July 3 instead of the original date of July 7. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) sources believed that the objective of this move by the authorities was to prevent the public from following the case and to ensure that the journalists are convicted.

On July 3, the seven journalists and GPU executive members were remanded in prison custody by the Banjul High Court. They are expected to remain in detention until July 8, when they will make an appearance to answer to criminal charges including "conspiracy to defame", "defamation", "conspiracy to publish with seditious intention" and "publishing with seditious intention".

The journalists refused to enter pleas because their counsel argued that they were being tried in two courts for the same offences.

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) sources reported that the Nigerian-born Justice Joseph Wowo claimed that the Kanifing magistrate granted the accused persons bail without a written application for that purpose.

The journalists were arrested separately on June 15, four days after the GPU issued a statement criticising President Yahya Jammeh for speaking ill of slain editor Deyda Hydara. They were hurriedly arraigned before the Kanifing court, which refused them bail until June 22. On June 22, a large crowd besieged the court premises in solidarity with the journalists. The crowd of mainly journalists, family members and other well-wishers was prevented from entering the court, which was guarded by military personnel armed with riot gear. The High Commissioner of the United Kingdom and the United States Ambassador, who observed the trial, issued a statement condemning the harassment of the media in The Gambia. Security personnel deployed outside the court premises arrested "The Point" newspaper reporter Augustine Kanja for photographing the crowd.

Following the pressure from civil society organisations for their unconditional release, the seven journalists and GPU executives were, on June 22, charged and released on bail in the sum of 200,000 Dalasis (approx. US$7,000) and two sureties each. However, they have now been rearrested and brought before the Banjul High court with fresh charges brought against them.

MFWA is convinced that this latest move by the court confirms the intention of the authorities to jail the journalists by all means. This development is worrying and constitutes the latest affront to free expression and independence of the media in The Gambia.

MFWA reiterates its call for African leaders meeting in Libya to enjoin President Jammeh to unconditionally withdraw the charges and also repeal all repressive laws which contravene the 1997 Gambian constitution.

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