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Gambian journalists face conspiracy charges over article about political defections

Two Gambian journalists, Musa Sheriff, editor-in-chief and owner of The Voice, a tri-weekly private newspaper, and Sainey Marenah, a reporter, were arrested on Monday 13 January by the Gambian security forces of the National Intelligence Agency and then released on bail on Thursday January 16 by the courts.

The newspaper's editorial team and other sources put these arrests down to an article on defections from the party in power.

The offending article, written by Marenah and published by The Voice in December 2013, stated that 19 members of President Yahya Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) had left the party to join the United Democratic Party (UDP), the main opposition formation. APRC had refuted these reports and their corrections for the record were published in The Voice on 12 December 2013.

On 15 January 2014, ARTICLE 19 got in touch by phone with a journalist at The Voice newspaper, who explained that Sheriff and Marenah had been transferred to the Banjul police. At that time, however, the Office of the Prosecutor affirmed that it was unaware of the arrests or the charges made against them.

On Thursday 16 January 2014, the two journalists were brought before Banjul's court of first instance. According to local sources, they are facing prosecution for conspiracy and have been released on bail in the sum of 20,000 Dalasi, or approximately US$500. They must reappear before the judge on 21 January 2014.

“It is hard to believe that journalists would be arrested and deprived of their freedom simply for reporting that some party members had jumped ship,” declared Fatou Jagne Senghor, ARTICLE 19 Regional Director for West Africa, who went on to say that “such inoffensive and purely political reporting should never be a reason for arresting journalists, in what is clearly an abuse of the judicial system.”

This is not the first time that journalists have suffered attacks on their freedom of opinion and expression in The Gambia.

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns these arbitrary arrests that once again violate the freedom of expression and information of both journalists.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Gambian authorities to cease the petty prosecution of Musa Sheriff and Sainey Marenah and to stop harassing and intimidating the Gambian press and citizens.

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