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Lawyer jailed for defending his client

(MFWA/IFEX) - 25 September 2011 - Moses Richards, a Gambian lawyer, was on September 19, 2011 sentenced to a total of two years and six months' imprisonment in connection with his work of representing a client.

Media Foundation for West Africa's (MFWA) sources reported that the Banjul Magistrate's Court found Richards, a former High Court judge, guilty of sedition and handed him a two-year jail term. He was sentenced to a further six months for supposedly giving false information to the office of President Yahya Jammeh.

Both sentences are running concurrently.

The charges against Richards stemmed from a letter he wrote on behalf of Pa Ebrima Colley, his client, to the Sheriff of the Banjul High Court. The letter reportedly mentioned the Office of President Jammeh, as ordering the sheriff for a stay of judgement in a land dispute between two families in a village in the western part of The Gambia.

Richards, during his defence, maintained that he did not write anything that was contemptuous of the president; neither did he give false information to the sheriff.

Richards, who was decorated with national honours, was on January 31, 2010 remanded in prison custody after he was arraigned before court to answer two criminal charges.

In a release, The Gambia Bar Association (GBA) said: "It is a universally accepted principle of all civilized societies that an advocate must be allowed to represent his or her client without fear or favour" and that Richards is being punished for discharging "his duties as a lawyer and while under the direct instruction of his client".

"Richards's client [Colley] appeared in court and swore under oath that he did indeed instruct Richards to write the said letter. These are the 'crimes' for which Richards is being punished," the statement emphasized.

"Once again, The Gambia is portrayed as a nation where the mere mention of the Office of the President is risky. The Gambia Bar Association urges the executive branch of the government to take note," the GBA added.

MFWA is appalled at the misuse of these sedition laws. We demand the repeal of sedition laws which are being used to suppress the voice of Gambians.

Richards's sentence is not legitimate. MFWA strongly condemns this act. The sentence must be revoked and the charges against him must be dropped immediately.

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