(MFWA/IFEX) - 25 October 2012 - The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the move by Gambian authorities to drop charges against two journalists who were arrested on 6 September 2012 for seeking permission to peacefully protest the execution of nine death row inmates on the orders of President Yayha Jammeh.
The two Journalists, Baboucarr Ceesay, the first vice president of the Gambian Press Union and Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelance journalist, were charged with “conspiracy to commit felony, seditious publication and incitement to violence” following their request to peacefully demonstrate.
The decision to drop the charges was announced on 23 October 2012 by Lamin Jobarteh, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, during a meeting with some senior legal and security officials and the two journalists at the Attorney General's Chambers in Banjul, the capital.
"Both of you must understand that this country belongs to all of us and we must uphold the peace and security of this country. I cannot just understand why you prefer to demonstrate peacefully after knowing the repercussions of a peaceful demonstration," Jobarteh cautioned.
While MFWA welcomes the decision to drop the charges and the attention given to earlier protest statements, the organisation calls on the Gambian Police Service to swiftly investigate a death threat against the two journalists.
Barely a day after their charges were dropped, the two journalists received a death threat from an unknown assailant via their email addresses.
“You are stubborn guys who want to destroy the image of the APRC Government and our affectionate President Yahya Jammeh. You think that you can apply for [a] permit to bring the Tunisian, Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Libya situation here. I will come with my team of patriotic killers who kill you for the love of our country and our president ... I have stepped in voluntarily to kill all of you and if you deny this just ignore my warning,” a part of the note read.
The news that the charges were dropped comes after MFWA successfully lobbied against them, locally and internationally. In addition to a dozen individual signatories gathered, forty IFEX members and affiliates signed the appeal below.
Appeal to the Gambian police service to drop charges against two journalists
The undersigned organisations join the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in expressing their utter dismay at the sluggish attitude of the Gambian police service in handling the cases of two journalists who are facing criminal charges in The Gambia.
We call on the authorities to immediately drop the charges against Baboucarr Ceesay, First Vice President of the Gambian Press Union (GPU), and Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelance journalist, who have been charged with "conspiracy to commit felony." The charges followed their arrest on 6 September 2012 for seeking a police permit to peacefully demonstrate against the execution of nine death row inmates on the orders of Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh. They were released on bail on 10 September.
In addition, Ceesay now faces an additional charge of "seditious publication" for an article the police claim he published on the Kenya-based Africa Review website. Saidykhan received an additional charge of "inciting violence" under section 59 (b) of the criminal code.
According to MFWA's research, Ceesay and Saidykhan have complied with the conditions of their bail by reporting to the police when requested over the past month, without receiving any clear indication from the authorities as to how the case is being handled.
There is no foundation to make the link between applying for a permit to peacefully demonstrate and the various charges preferred against the two journalists.
We therefore call upon the police service, among other authorities, to:
Signed, Media Foundation for West Africa
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders
West African Journalists Association
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
MISA South Africa