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Global protests mark president's 15-year rule

President Yahya Jammeh
President Yahya Jammeh

Several protests against Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's extreme freedom of the press abuses were held in Europe and Africa last week, marking the 15-year anniversary of the president's coup d'état and the third day of a sedition and defamation trial against a group of the country's most respected journalists.

On 22 July, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MWFA) held a public forum in Accra, Ghana in hopes of combating the president's "reign of terror" over the media, which has included killings, abductions, torture, unlawful arrests and detentions. The forum drew support from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the Ghana Chapter of Amnesty International and the Ghana Journalists Association.

MFWA researcher Mohammed Shardow told forum participants that since 1994, as many as 91 media workers have been subject to arbitrary arrest and detention. Accusing Jammeh of amassing wealth while impoverishing the population, MWFA lawyer Akoto Ampaw, who had just returned from a mission in the Gambia, criticised the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) for not revoking Jammeh's membership on human rights grounds.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Scotland, local journalists and Gambian exiles held an all-day vigil in the city centre in solidarity with the Gambian journalists accused of sedition and defamation, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reports. Also, in Senegal, at a press conference organised by Amnesty's Dakar office, Demba Jawo, the former President of Gambia Press Union (GPU), lambasted the Gambian government for failing to properly investigate the 2004 murder of newspaper editor Deyda Hydara.

Another campaign in solidarity with Gambian journalists took place outside of the Gambian High Commission in London on 20 July, reports the IFJ. The protest, held by the National Union of Journalists in the UK and Ireland (NUJ), the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Amnesty International, demanded accountability in the disappearance of journalist Chief Ebrima B. Manneh, who has not been seen since he was arrested by security agents in 2006.

A key concern of the international demonstrations was the ongoing trial of a group of journalists who were arrested on charges of sedition and defamation in June. The charges are in connection to a GPU statement in June that criticised the president for speaking ill of slain editor Deyda Hydara. MWFA reports that one of the seven journalists, Abubacarr Saidykhan, a reporter with "Foroyaa" newspaper, was acquitted of the charges on 28 July.

MWFA reports that trial resumes today for the remaining six journalists, Sam Sarr, GPU General Secretary Emil Touray, GPU Vice President Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, GPU Treasurer Pa Modou Faal, Pap Saine, publisher of "The Point" newspaper, and Ebrima Sawaneh, editor of "The Point". Both MWFA and IFJ are deeply concerned that the media workers are being denied a fair trial.

Exhibiting a shocking indifference to the mounting international pressure, on 22 July President Jammeh told state-owned station "Gambian Radio and Television" that: "Any journalist who thinks that he or she can write whatever he or she wants, and go free, is making a big mistake," MWFA reports.

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