Saturday, 10 April 2010

Gambia ALERT: Journalist receives death threats

Yusupha Cham, a Gambian journalist, now based in the United Kingdom, is living in fear after receiving death threats from persons suspected to be agents of the notoriously feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of the Gambia.
The senders in two email messages claimed Cham has been attacking the administration of President Yahya Jammeh in articles he has been contributing to online Gambian news websites.
Cham, a former reporter of the privately-owned Banjul-based The Point newspaper within a period of 24 hours received a number of email messages warning him to desist from criticizing President Jammeh. The first message from email address: musajammeh5@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it bearing the name of “Musa Jammeh” was sent to the journalist at about 15:30 hrs GMT on April 1, 2010 and headlined: “We are watching you.” Part of that message read:“We members of the Gambian security force, precisely the National Intelligent Agency or NIA have been following and monitoring you with keen interest since you left the country”
An earlier message which came to Cham on March 31 at about 15:23 GMT was entitled: “You are located” and was sent from one “Ismaila Sanyang” through ismailasanyang31@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . This message threatened the journalist and his family.
“You have to be extremely careful only if you value your life and that of your family because whoever is found wanting or opposing the ideals of our able President DR. PROFESSOR SHIEKH YAHYA A.J.J. JAMMEH will surely pay the price”.
According to Cham, these threats are coming at a time that he has started contributing articles to a number of websites which the agents are claiming to be attacking the government of President Jammeh. Source:MFWA

IPI Condemns Death Threats against Gambian Online News Director

‘All I’m Doing is Giving People Information They Can’t Get from the Government,’ Says Yusupha Cham
Naomi Hunt, Press Freedom Adviser for Africa & the Middle East
The Gambian founder and managing director of Jollof News Online, Yusupha Cham, who lives in exile in Birmingham, UK, told IPI on Wednesday that he has received three emailed death threats since the beginning of the year. Copies of the emails were forwarded to the IPI Secretariat in Vienna.
The first email, from a Hotmail account, was sent in late January 2010. In it the writer warns Cham not to return to Gambia because “death await you in Banjul [sic]” as a result of “articles all over the Internet and on the Echo.” The Gambian Echo is an opposition website to which Cham has contributed several articles and editorials that heavily criticize Gambian President Yahyah Jammeh and his policies.
Cham received a second threatening email from “members of the Gambian security force, precisely the National Intelligent Agency [sic],” the next day. The author, calling himself Musa Jammeh, said that if Cham returned to Gambia his entry would be monitored and his “days will come soon.”
Cham responded to the first two threatening emails on 7 March with an editorial on the Jollof News website in which he declared that “no amount of intimidation can deter [the media] from continuing on this path we have already taken.”
Later in March, Cham received yet another threatening message, this time from someone claiming to be named Ismaila Sanyang. The email warns, “Consider UK your new home because if you dare step your foot on Gambian soil Mile 2 prison will pay host to you only if you are lucky enough to escape answering calls from your ancestors.”
The former Gambian sports journalist is now afraid of what will happen if he attempts to return to his home country. “I’m just afraid and I’m outraged,” he said. “I don’t know why they are threatening my life. All I’m doing is giving the people information that they can’t get from the government.” He added: “No amount of threat will deter me from carrying on.”
“We are concerned by Mr. Cham’s reports that he has received death threats” said IPI Director David Dadge. “If any of these threats do indeed originate with the Gambian security forces, as was claimed in one of the emails Mr. Cham received, it is vital that President Yahyah Jammeh ensures that officers in the army treat every citizen of the Gambia with respect and in accordance with national and international law.”
If the threats originate with hoaxers then it is again the responsibility of the Gambian authorities to investigate the source of these illegal threats and bring the perpetrators to book,” Dadge said. “Journalists should be allowed to report on news, no matter how critical, without fear for their freedom or their lives, or the safety of their families. Acceptance of this fact is an essential first step towards creating press freedom in Gambia.”
Cham launched Jollof News online, which exclusively covers political issues, in January. The website now has over 5,000 visitors a day, Cham told IPI. The former sports reporter now turned political commentator has contributed to several Gambian online opposition news websites. In his work, he has repeatedly lambasted the government of Gambian President Yahyah Jammeh, and the Gambian security forces over their alleged corruption, impunity and the regime’s alleged implication in the murder of well-known Gambian editor Deyda Hydara. Cham also owns and operates a Gambian sports website,
Until he left the Gambia in 2006, Cham worked as a sports editor for the independent newspaper the Point. In December 2004, the Point’s editor-in-chief and co-founder Deyda Hydara was shot to death, just days after he published editorials expressing his intention to challenge two new press laws that many believed have constricted the media in the small West African country. Journalists at the daily paper have subsequently been the target of spurious law suits and criminal charges, which IPI has repeatedly condemned as politically-motivated acts against reporters who are exercising their right to criticize government policy and practice investigative journalism. Soource: IPI

Monday, 29 March 2010

The unconvincing coup story

Ever since the unexplained arrest and detention of Lang Tombong and co and the subsequent floating of a coup theory, many have remained anxious over what might eventually happen. And now each time one takes a dose of this treason trial, and the cock and bull story of that delinquent of a witness, one tends to be more and more confused about the motive behind the insinuations.
I was in The Gambia throughout the period of all the past alleged coup plots and I only left weeks before the Ndure Cham one. In all these alleged or real plots, the arrests were immediately followed by announcements of the discovery of a coup plot, whether true or false. Even when Daba Maren and co were bumped off, an explanation, no matter how unconvincing it certainly was to many, was given on GRTS. So just how and why did it take four good months, and long and numerous desperate legal fishing expeditions to come up with these almighty charges against Lang Tombong and co?
The reason might as well be that there simply was no coup. Many have tried to argue on the line that soon after taking the decision to sack Lang, who was getting too popular for his liking, Jammeh’s well known paranoia got hold of him and his initial boldness in the whole affair gave way to fear, insecurity and ill comfort as he began to wonder just how influential Lang Tombong might be and how wide spread his loyalty stands in the Army.
By literally exposing the dirty linen of soldiers in public, one would naturally expect public opinion to turn against Tamba’s popularity, but it soon became clear, through the huge flow of traffic of sympathizers to the General’s house, that Lang Tombong is one man whose fan base is deeply rooted and difficult to wipe out instantly or through intimidation.
As the General stood his ground and remained mute, refusing to crawl or beg for the return of the grace he fell from, Oga probably began to wonder what is going on around the General's mind, ironically the soldier whom he himself has made the most decorated service man in Gambian history.
Apparently, as he continue to monitor Tamba, Jammeh cancelled two foreign trips in the most bizarre manner, wasting decent common people and diplomats' time with handshakes only for him to return home.
Today, many are convinced that the only way for Jammeh to sleep in his bed is when General Tamba and his close security friends are locked up, hence the present near circus going on at the courts.

Friday, 19 March 2010

US Senators deplore Gambia’s democracy

As they push for inquiry into Chief Manneh’s case
If you have any hand in the disappearance of Journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh or for some other reason you are against the widely sought after resolution of the continued detention of the journalist by the Gambian authorities, you have every reason to worry, because calls for justice for his horrific ordeal remain unabated.
Five (5) United States senators, headed by Dick Durbin, have joined calls by the international community for the case of the disappeared journalist to be resolved. They specifically called on the Commonwealth to mount an investigation on the continued disappearance of the journalist.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader, Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), who has had long term interest in the Chief Manneh case, last Thursday, addressed the letter to the Commonwealth of Nations Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, urging him to launch an investigation into the case of the Gambian journalist, who has been held incommunicado and without charge for almost four years. In the letter, senators did not only condemn the unconstitutionality of the treatment of the disappeared journalist, but they also deplored in strong terms the ‘‘poor’’ and ‘deteriorating’ political and human rights situation in the country.
“Mr Manneh’s disappearance and the Gambian Government’s ongoing refusal to account for his whereabouts are in direct contradiction of the strong human rights standards embraced by the Commonwealth,” Durbin wrote. And he added, “Undoubtedly many members of the Commonwealth also share our concern about the deteriorating political and human rights situation in the Gambia, an issue you raised at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. Accordingly, we respectfully ask that you investigate Mr. Manneh’s disappearance and press Gambian President Jammeh not only for his immediate release, but also to reverse the Gambia’s poor human rights record.”
Chief Ebrima Manneh was reportedly detained in July 2006, after he was reported to have been engaging in anti-Yahya Jammeh activities. His colleagues were present when he was picked up by plainclothes officers from the feared Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA). As a way of keeping him away from public view, to back up the authorities’ claim of lack of knowledge about his whereabouts, Chief is believed to have been transported to various detention facilities across the country since his arrest.
However, several eye witnesses have in the past claimed to have sighted him at various places, including Fatoto Police Station, at the extreme end of the Gambia. He has also been spotted at Mile Two Prison.
In July 2007, Manneh was also reportedly escorted by members of the Gambian Police Intervention Unit to the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul for high blood pressure treatment. He has not been seen since then.
There have been numerous calls at both local and international level, including both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice and the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, for his release. But all that appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
While the government denies ever arresting him, fear of his possible murder increases by the day.
US Senator Durbin, Chairman on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and Law, is among prominent individuals who have been pressing for Chief Manneh’s release for over two years. His Thursday’s letter to the Commonwealth Secretary General was co-signed by four other prominent US senators - Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA), Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Gambia charges alleged coup plotters

Reports from Banjul indicate that the authorities have finally charged a number of security officers rounded up since last October, in a wave of arrests that still appears unabated, on allegations of attempting to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh’s government.
Sources say that among the accused are General Lang Tombong Tamba, former Chief of Defense Staff of the Gambian Armed Forces, who was sacked alongside a number of other high profile security personnel in the army, police and the country’s National Intelligence Agency. Interestingly, renegade former army chief, Colonel Ndure Cham, mastermind of the alleged March 2006 abortive coup, is reported to be among the list of people charged, although he still remains at large. It is not clear whether his charge has to do with the latest coup plot allegation or the March 2006 foiled one.
It would take the authorities about five months to come up with enough evidence to prefer charges against the General and nine other former security officers and three civilians.
Ironically, Colonel Cham’s almost successful coup was aborted thanks to General Tamba, who eventually took over as head of the army in what was clearly a payoff move.
We reported earlier about investigations on the so-called ‘Tobaski Coup plot’ taking Gambian investigators as far as Guinea Bissau, where a ship load of weapons, destined for the country, allegedly as part of the coup operation, was reportedly intercepted late last year. According to information regarding the investigations, the accused held a meeting in General Lang Tombong Tamba’s house, sometime in January 2009, where they allegedly agreed to acquire weapons from abroad and shipped to the Gambia.
A press release said to be from the Gambian Attorney General’s office, aired on the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), described Omar Bun Mbye, also at large, as the ‘‘ringleader’’ of the foiled coup.
The statement reads that “the indicted army and intelligence officials smuggled guns and foreign mercenaries into the country last year as part of a plot to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh and the democratically elected Government of the Republic of The Gambia”.
All ten men named in the charge sheet are accused of conspiracy to commit treason, contrary to section 35, 1g of the Criminal Code procedure, according to the details of the charge sheet.
The other accused are Lamin Bo Badjie, former Acting NIA Director; Ngorr Secka, formerly NIA agent and then deputy Gambian ambassador to Guinea Bissau; Colonel Kawsu Camara, aka Bombardier, former Kanilai Camp Commander and close ally of President Jammeh; Modou Gaye, former Deputy IGP; General Omar Bun Mbaye; Abdoulie Secka (Lie Joof); Yousuf Ezziden aka Rambo; and Omar Camara. The last three are all civilian and business men. Source:

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Africa urged to domesticate adopted rights instrument

Delegates at a regional human rights confab have called on African leaders to move towards domesticating and implementing the numerous adopted instruments.
This call was made in Banjul, where participants from various African Union organs were gathered with a view to developing modalities for enhancing the Human Rights Strategy for the continent. The Banjul meeting was also aimed at establishing ‘‘the practice and focus action on moving forward the collective Human Rights Strategy; and make recommendations for building synergies between the strategy and other governance initiatives in Africa,’’ according to a press release published by the African Union Commission, Thursday 11 March, 2010.
“We must not lose sight of the shift towards a shared values approach in the protection and promotion of human rights in Articles 3 and 4 of the AU Constitutive Act, which emphasizes the significance of good governance, the rule of law and human rights”, Dr Mamadou Dia - Head of the African Union Division of Governance, Human Rights and Elections, was quoted as telling delegates at the opening ceremony of the Banjul meeting. ‘‘The meeting must therefore take the human rights agenda from being a mosaic of good intentions to a shared value or a common denominator that binds our common destiny”, he added.
Dr Dia, who disclosed that the theme of the January 2011 AU Summit is “Shared Values”, went on to emphasis the need for other institutions to work together with the African Union in order to usher in a new order of global shared values.
Participants at the meeting, which concluded last Saturday, were drawn from AU organs with a human rights mandate and Regional Economic Communities such as the AU Commission, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights and ECOWAS. The United Nations and other development partners, international institutions, civil society and other stakeholders were also represented.
‘‘Africa has developed many human rights institutions, charters and protocols, and there has been notable progress in observance of human rights on the continent,’’ the release noted. It added that human rights are universal and indivisible, and that they are at the heart of good governance, democracy and sustainable development.
‘‘There is no doubt that the African human rights agenda provides a robust basis for the continent’s renewal,’’ the release went on to state.
It however added that 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and three decades after the adoption of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the continent is still grappling with the gap that exists between the human rights vision that it seeks to establish and the reality that confronts it.
‘‘In this regard, there is need for coordination, collaboration and coherence among the different actors in the human rights sphere and to develop a human rights strategy for Africa,’’ the release concluded.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Detained rights activist declared ‘prisoner of conscience’

Amnesty International has expressed serious concern over the faith of Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, the human rights activist in the custody of the Gambian authorities. The watchdog, in a statement released today, Friday March 12, describing Nwakaeme as a prisoner of conscience, said it was worried that the founder and Director of the Gambia based human rights organization, Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG), is at risk of a six-month prison sentence.
Amnesty cited newspaper reports that the authorities have also seized the activist’s passport and that there were plans to have him deported to his native Nigeria.
Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, who has reportedly been running ADG since 2006, faces charges of providing false information to a public official. Various reports have linked his case to his organization’s intention to enlist President Yahya Jammeh’s daughter as an ADG ambassador. Apparently, Mr Nwakaeme wrote a letter to the office of the president at State House, presenting his organisation as a Non-governmental organisation, while it was officially registered as charity.
However, while arguing that Charges of "false information" are usually used in cases of fraudulent applications for identity papers, or where people give false identities to government officials, Amnesty pointed out that it considers the charge faced by the activist to have resulted solely from his activities as a Human Rights Defender, and that it considers him to be a ‘‘prisoner of conscience.’’
The UK based human rights organisation is therefore requesting that the Gambian authorities drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release Nwakaeme. It also reminds the Gambian government that ‘‘action of this kind violates international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).’’
The statement from Amnesty referenced the widely condemned September 2009 alleged death threat by President Yahya Jammeh, who reportedly told state-owned GRTS television that he would kill anyone who threatened to destabilize the country.
‘‘President Jammeh specifically threatened human rights defenders, and those working with them, by emphasizing that their security and personal safety would not be guaranteed by the government of Gambia,’’ the statement from Amnesty said.
The Nigerian was first arrested on 22 February by the Gambian Immigration Department, but was released three days later. And on March 1st, he was again detained, and subsequently taken to court March 8th, charged with giving "false information." The activist reportedly refused to plead either guilty or innocent on that day, ‘‘because he did not have a lawyer with him.’’
He was later taken to court again on 10 March and charged with giving "false information to the office of the president that Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG) is a Non Governmental Organization." That was when Nwakaeme pleaded not guilty. His lawyer subsequently submitted a bail application, which was denied by the seating judge who remanded him in prison. The case has since been adjourned until 22 March.
Amnesty International officials remain worried that the activist, who is currently in Mile 2 prisons, might be sentenced to six month's imprisonment or a fine of D500 (approximately $20), a situation they deem unfair.