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Six jailed journalists appeal against harsh sentences

(MFWA/IFEX) - On 17 August 2009, six Gambian journalists, jailed for supposedly defaming President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, filed an appeal challenging the two-year jail sentences and outrageous fines of 500,000 Gambian Dalasis each (about US$18,000) handed down to them.

On 6 August, a Banjul High court presided over by a Nigerian judge, Emmanuel Fangbele, convicted the journalists on all six counts of criminal "defamation" and "sedition". The charges followed an 11 June Gambian Press Union (GPU) press statement that criticised President Jammeh over comments he made slandering the memory of Deyda Hydara, a journalist who was brutally murdered in 2004 by as-yet unknown assailants.

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) sources reported that Lamin Camara, lead counsel, filed the appeal asking the Appeal Court to overturn the High Court judgement on the grounds that the criminal charges on which his clients were tried and convicted contravenes the 1997 Gambian Constitution.

The sources said this appeal offers little hope for the journalists, as it is not likely they would be freed. It is also impossible for the journalists to secure bail pending the outcome of the appeal. The hearing is likely to begin in October as the judiciary is currently on vacation.

Meanwhile, the seven-month old baby of one of the journalists, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Vice President of the GPU, was returned to her in the dreaded Mile Two prison on 15 August. The baby was initially sent to the SOS Children Village.


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