Held Without Charge
Journalist Ebrima Manneh was arrested in July 2006 by officers believed to be from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
He has been missing ever since. There are conflicting reports for the reason of his arrest. According to some sources, he was arrested following a disagreement with the managing editor of the Daily Observer, a close ally of President Yahya Jammeh. Other sources claim that he was arrested after he attempted to give information to a foreign journalist, deemed damaging to the country’s image. And finally, other sources link his arrest to his alleged attempt to print a report which was critical of the government in the Daily Observer.
While the exact reason for his arrest is unknown, it is clear that Ebrima Manneh is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Reports suggest that Manneh is being held without charge at Fatoto Police Station in Eastern Gambia. After repeated attempts by his father and many fellow journalists to find out what happened to him, the government issued an official statement on February 21, 2007 denying any involvement in Manneh’s arrest or any knowledge of his whereabouts.
Despite this, there were reports that Manneh was treated for high blood pressure at a hospital in the capital city of Banjul at the end of July 2007. Reportedly, he was escorted by members of the Police Intervention Unit which is a branch of the Gambian Police Force.
In 2007, the Media Foundation for West Africa filed an application on behalf of Ebrima Manneh to the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), summoning the Gambian government to answer charges over his disappearance. In June 2008, the ECOWAS court decided that Ebrima Manneh’s right to liberty and to a fair trial had been violated by the Gambian government, and it ordered the Gambian authorities to release Manneh from unlawful detention without delay; restore his human rights, including his right to freedom of movement; and provide him with $100,000 as damages.
Although the international community hailed this decision, the Gambian government responded with silence, and Ebrima Manneh continues to remain missing. Amnesty International is extremely concerned about his safety, and calls on the Gambian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.
Since assuming power in 1994, the administration of President Yahya Jammeh has suppressed the media and other perceived opponents of the government. This was highlighted in 2004 when the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern over the arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and members of political opposition parties.
Also in 2004, the National Assembly in The Gambia passed two pieces of legislation, the Newspaper Amendment Act and the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2004. These required all print and broadcast owners to sign an agreement stating that they owned enough assets to pay any penalties that may be imposed by the courts. The laws also imposed a mandatory prison sentence for media owners if convicted of publishing defamatory or ‘seditious’ material.
The Gambia’s overall human rights situation has deteriorated since an alleged coup plot was uncovered in late March 2006. Throughout 2007, an increasing number of journalists went into hiding following intimidation, threats and harassment by authorities. The former president of the Gambian Press Association, Demba Jawo has described the environment for Gambian journalists as one of self-censorship: “Being a journalist in The Gambia is definitely not an easy thing — because of a lot of threats, a lot of anxiety as a journalist.”