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President pardons six journalists

Journalists imprisoned on charges of sedition have been released on presidential pardon
Journalists imprisoned on charges of sedition have been released on presidential pardon

CPJ

Six Gambian journalists imprisoned on charges ranging from defamation to "seditious publication" were released on 3 September on a presidential pardon, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and other IFEX members.

The journalists were convicted for issuing a joint statement holding President Yahya Jammeh's government responsible for journalist Deyda Hydara's murder in 2004.

Along with the Gambia Press Union (GPU), MFWA and other IFEX members consistently campaigned for the release of the six journalists, bringing international attention to what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called "unprecedented media harassment" in the Gambia.

"We welcome President (Yahya) Jammeh's decision to heed the cries of the press freedom community," said the International Press Institute (IPI). "However, it must be noted that the charges made against these journalists were trumped-up and outrageous from the beginning and the case should never have reached the inside of a court. The courts should have rejected the case out of hand, rather than the defendants having to wait for the arbitrary mercy of the President," IPI added.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says the journalists' trial was conducted with many abuses of due process.

Hydara was co-founder and editor of the independent newspaper "The Point". According to IPI's Justice Denied campaign, no one was ever brought to justice for his death and widespread suspicion persists that he was killed by members of the "Green Boys", an officially disbanded group linked to the President.

The freed journalists are GPU officials Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Emil Touray and Pa Modou Fall; Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh of "The Point"; and Sam Sarr of the newspaper "Foroyaa". They were arrested in June and given a two-year sentence on 6 August, say the IFEX members.

A seventh journalist, Abubakar Saidykhan of "Forayaa", was also arrested in June in connection with the GPU statement and was subsequently acquitted, says IPI.

Reports of health issues and poor treatment had raised concerns for the reporters' well-being during their imprisonment. According to IPI, authorities reportedly took Jabbi-Dibba's seven-month old baby away from her on 8 August for a "routine medical examination." The child, who is still breastfeeding, was not returned to its mother until 15 August.

In a statement released on state-run television, Jammeh said the pardon was in the spirit of Ramadan, which encourages Muslims to forgive each other, according to MFWA.

MFWA says the journalists were victims of "mercenary justice" controlled by Jammeh and calls upon the Gambian government to: stop harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention of journalists; to repeal repressive media laws; and ensure a proper investigation into the death of Deyda Hydara.

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