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Court acquits one journalist, six others face prison sentences for defaming president

(MFWA/IFEX) - Six Gambian journalists could go to jail if found guilty of six criminal charges of "sedition" and "defamation" resulting from a publication on 11 June 2009 of a Gambian Press Union (GPU) statement criticising President Yahya Jammeh over an interview he granted slandering slain journalist Deyda Hydara.

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)'s sources reported that the Gambia's state prosecutor has requested that the Banjul High Court, presided over by Justice Emmanuel Fangbenle, convict the journalists on all six counts of criminal "defamation" and "sedition".

Prior to this request, President Jammeh characteristically threatened in an anniversary speech on 22 July that the accused journalists would not be "spared" but would be punished as the laws of the country require.

If found guilty, each of the accused journalists would pay a fine of a minimum of 50,000 Dalasis (about US$1,800) and maximum of 250,000 Dalasis (about US$9,000), face a prison sentence of six months to two years for each count, or both.

Following a request by defence counsel Lamin Camara, the court adjourned the case to 3 August, to enable him to make his final submission.

On 30 July, two prominent defendants, managing editors Pap Saine of "The Point" and Sam Sarr of "Foroyaa", testified before the court denying the criminal charges. The other accused had done the same earlier in the week.

On 28 July, Abubacarr Saidykhan, a reporter with the independent "Foroyaa" newspaper, was acquitted and discharged following an application filed to that effect by counsel Camara. Saidykhan was arrested together with Sarr, his editor, on 15 June. According to the court, Saidykhan did no wrong when he attempted to photograph Sarr's arrest.

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