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Six journalists sentenced to two years for sedition

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh


The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and other IFEX members have condemned the "politicised" verdict against six Gambian journalists who were sentenced last week to two years in jail and heavy fines for sedition and criminal defamation.

The six journalists, who worked for the two private newspapers "The Point" and "Foroyaa", had republished an 11 June Gambian Press Union (GPU) statement that criticised President Yahya Jammeh for recent comments he made on national television. Jammeh had claimed that the state was not involved in the 2004 murder of "Point" editor Deyda Hydara, and that press freedom was respected in the country.

According to the union, the six journalists will be held at Mile Two Prison in Banjul while the defence files an appeal. Failure to pay the fine of approximately US$10,000 each will lead to an additional four years in jail, says the union.

In another state television appearance last month, Jammeh threatened local independent journalists and referred to them as "rat pieces," reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "So they think they can hide behind so-called press freedom and violate the law and get away with it," Jammeh said.

MFWA said it was not surprised at the verdict. "At every step of the trial, the Gambian authorities, as well as the courts, have demonstrated their resolve to jail these journalists," said MFWA. "(We are) saddened by the arbitrary and indecent haste with which the courts in The Gambia are openly doing the bidding of President Jammeh," MFWA added.

One of the six convicted, managing director of "The Point" Pap Saine suffers from a heart condition. Authorities have also revived unrelated charges accusing Saine of publishing false information in a January article about a reshuffle of diplomatic staff, says CPJ.

Another of the journalists, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, a senior "Point" reporter and vice-president of the union, is the breastfeeding mother of a seven-month-old baby.

According to CPJ, the other convicted journalists are "Foroyaa" managing director Sam Saar and assistant editor Emil Touray, and "Point" deputy editor Ebou Sawaneh and senior reporter Pa Modou Faal.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who is currently in Africa to promote good governance, to "modify her itinerary and make a stopover in Banjul." RSF said media harassment had reached unprecedented levels with the case. Meanwhile, the EU released a statement on 10 August expressing concern at the heavy sentences.

The GPU chapter in the U.S. has launched a petition calling for the immediate release of the Gambian six.

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