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Gambian journalist and torture survivor Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay sentenced to prison in absentia

MFWA

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on 9 November 2016.

A High Court in The Gambia has sentenced exiled journalist and manager of Taranga FM, Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay, to a total of four years imprisonment.

The court presided over by Justice E.O Dada on November 8, 2016, convicted and sentenced Ceesay to a one year imprisonment and a fine of Dalasi 100,000 (about US$ 2,290) on count one and two. On count three to six, the journalist was sentenced to one year imprisonment and also a fine of Dalasi 100,000 (about US$2,290). Counts one to six were duplicated sedition charges. On count seven, which charges Ceesay with false publication, he was sentenced to two years in prison. The sentences are to run concurrently.

Judge Dada in his ruling indicated that if Ceesay fails to pay the fine, he will be made to serve additional two years in prison.

Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay was first arrested on July 2, 2015, briefly released and re-arrested on July 17, 2015 on accusation of distributing photos of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh with a gun pointed at him. After a two-week detention in which Ceesay was held incommunicado with no access to a lawyer or his family, he was brought before a Magistrates Court on August 4, 2015 and charged with a single count of sedition. On November 18, while the case was still ongoing at the Magistrates Court, the state pressed a fresh seven-count charge against the journalist. These charges were a mere duplication of the first charge at the Magistrates court, except for that of “publication of false news.” The initial single count charge was later dropped.

Despite several calls by the MFWA and many civil society organisations to the Gambian authorities to release Ceesay, he was kept in detention. On March 3, 2016 the MFWA and 36 other freedom of expression organisations from across Africa and the globe petitioned the African Commission on Human and People's Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion to urge President Jammeh to release Ceesay.

On March 31, 2016, two US senate members, Richard Joseph Durbin, a senior United States Senator for Illinois and Patrick Joseph Leahy, Senator for Vermont, also wrote to President Jammeh to release Ceesay who had then been in detention for over eight months.

While in detention, Ceesay was tortured and maltreated and was hospitalized on several occasions until his escape from hospital on April 21, 2016.

While giving the judgement on November 8, 2016, Justice Dada also said an order will be served on the police to declare Abdoulie Ceesay – who is currently in exile – a fugitive, and to bring him to serve his sentence. Ceesay will therefore be arrested and be made to serve his sentence should he return to The Gambia.

The MFWA is deeply concerned about the sentencing of Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay after the long period of detention and torture that he has already endured. We are particularly dismayed that despite the numerous interventions and appeals by local, regional and international groups and individuals, the Gambian authorities have continued to persecute Ceesay. We call on the Gambian government to grant amnesty to Ceesay who has already been forced to live in exile and far from his family and friends. We are once again calling on ECOWAS, and the African Commission to urge President Yahya Jammeh to grant amnesty to Ceesay and also improve on the press freedom, freedom of expression and human rights conditions in the country.

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