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Friday, August 21, 2009

Gambia:Yahya Jammeh Under Fire

Prof. Kwame Karikari (M), Akoto Ampaw (R) and Saidou Arji
GAMBIAN PRESIDENT, Yahya Jammeh’s alleged refusal to allow thorough investigations into what is being described as illegal conviction of six journalists, accused of criminal ‘defamation and sedition’ has attracted several groupings to wage war against the embattled Head of State.

Latest to vent their anger on recent barbaric happenings in The Gambia are the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), which indicated that the repressive regime of President Jammeh had held the country to ransom over the last 14 years.

The convicted Gambian journalists include Ebrima Sawaneh, Pap Saine, Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Pa Modou Faal, Sam Sarr and Bai Emil Touray. Out of the number, one female is a nursing mother.

Addressing a group of Journalists in Accra yesterday, Executive Director of MFWA, Prof. Kwame Karikari, stated that on August 6 this year, the said journalists were convicted on all six counts of criminal defamation and sedition.

He lamented that even after a Banjul High Court, presided over by a Nigerian judge, Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, had handed them a two-year-jail term with each to run concurrently for four of the six counts, the convicts were not given the option of a fine to pay.

The journalists were also to pay a total fine of 500,000 dalasi, about $18,000 and failure to comply would prolong their jail terms to four more years for the remaining two counts.

Bent on jailing the journalists, Prof. Karikari said that government authorities rounded up and detained the accused persons for more than 72 hours without appearing in court, as the country’s constitution stipulated, on June 15.

Adding that, they were “hurriedly arraigned before a magistrate court without their counsel. Initially, the magistrate court ordered them to reappear on July 7, 2009, but surprisingly, the authorities summoned them to reappear on July 3 instead”.

He however appealed to President John Evans Atta Mills to use his good offices to directly intervene by means of diplomacy to get President Jammeh to release the journalists with immediate effect, end repression of free speech and stop the gross abuse of human rights in The Gambia.

“We will follow this conference with a formal request to President Atta Mills, as well as to the President of ECOWAS Commission, the Chairman of ECOWAS and the ECOWAS Council of the Wise to make the same appeal,” Prof. Karikari outlined.

The charges, he continued, stemmed from a June 11 press statement which “criticised President Jammeh over comments he had made, slandering Deyda Hydara, co-proprietor and editor of The Point”.

According to him, the late Hydara was shot three times in the head by unidentified gunmen, immediately after his newspaper celebrated its 13th anniversary in 2004.

He pointed out that ever since the horrific incident occurred, The Gambian government had still refused to investigate Hydara’s death but instead, President Jammeh consistently accused the late editor of causing his own murder.

“It was one of such reckless slanders of the dead man that prompted the Gambian Press Union to criticise him and invited him to exonerate his government from blame by looking for the perpetrators,” he noted.

MFWA is calling leaders in the sub-region to as a matter of urgency, find lasting solutions to the “growing horrific human rights situation in neighbouring Gambia”, adding that if not checked, may roll back progress in Africa’s efforts to sustain and improve upon democracy.

By Nathaniel Y.Yankson/Daily Guide

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