Monday, 21 September 2009

GPU condemns conviction, imprisonment of six journalists

The Gambia Press Union vehemently condemns the conviction, jailing and heavy fines, today of six Gambian journalists, three of whom are members of the Union Executive, Emil Touray; secretary general; Sarata Jabbi Dibba, vice president and Pa Modou Faal, treasurer; Pap Saine and Ebou Sawaneh, The Point’s publisher and editor respectively; And Sam Sarr, editor, Foroyaa newspaper.
The group have been convicted of all six counts and sentenced to two years imprisonment without the option of a fine for four of the counts and fined each 250,000 Dalasis (about US$10,000) on the other two counts, failure to pay, they will serve two years for each count.
Today, August 6 marks one of the darkest days in the history of the Gambian judiciary, where a judge of the High Court, Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, despite Constitutional guarantees to Freedom of Expression, an independent judiciary and despite a weak and senseless prosecution effort, has allowed himself, to be used openly and publicly by the Executive to further enforce its reign of terror.
The pain and trauma inflicted on these gallant journalists and their families, the Union and its membership by the state authorities and a legal system geared towards bolstering tyranny and oppression is unimaginable. Yet, we are hopeful that in a regional and world community that respects and promotes the ideals of freedom of expression, good governance and democratic principles, the freedom and rights of our colleagues will be guaranteed.
The Union will immediately launch an appeal in The Gambia Court of Appeal, for one reason and one reason alone. It is the only institution that can overturn the decision of the High Court.
In a similar manner and for the fact that we have no faith in a flawed Gambian judicial system that demonstrates open bias, we shall simultaneously seek redress through the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights and the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice. At this point it is also worthy to mention that at least on two occasions whilst the trial was ongoing, the head of state, President Yahya Jammeh issued direct threats to journalists and others “hiding behind freedom of expression”. Our Constitutional and international guarantees to freedom of expression aside, we find this and other procedural flaws enough grounds for appeal.
The fact that the case, from the onset should have been heard at the Criminal Division of the High Court, which never happened, is still a cause for concern
Today’s Court decision only confirms our claims that the Gambian judiciary is being used to bolster State-supported tyranny and oppression. We call on the Judicial Service Commission and the Gambia Bar Association to defend the Constitutional mandates of the Courts and the Judiciary in its entirety.
Gambian journalists and the Union have been at the forefront of challenging unconstitutional measures geared towards stifling freedom of expression, media and other constitutionally and universally guaranteed freedoms and rights. We are also among the very few Gambian voices on the ground speaking out against impunity, constitutional and human rights violations and other State engineered governance inconsistencies with the hope of getting the Gambian people and the attention of the international community to ensure accountability, transparency, good governance and respect for human rights.
For this, we continue to pay a high price. We face unnecessary harassment, intimidation, protracted and mostly irrelevant Court cases, unfair convictions, exorbitant fines, closure of media houses, exile, the risk of disappearance and in the case of Deyda Hydara, victims of targeted killings.
The GPU reiterates its call for a Gambia where every citizen is free to openly express themselves and participate in debates geared towards national development without fear of State retaliation. This is call for every Gambian to enjoy their rights as Guaranteed and stipulated by the 1997 Constitution, Article 9 of The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are deemed to be a Sovereign nation, where each and every Gambian is equal before the laws of the land, thus we deem it a travesty of Justice when the custodians of the law, bend the laws to suit the interests of a few.
The Union also wishes to thank the hundreds of individuals and institutions at home and all over the world who have reached out to us in writing, in protest, through the phone and financially at the darkest hour of the Union’s history simply for our exercising our rights as Gambian journalists to express our concerns and to hold the executive accountable to the very Gambians it has sworn to uphold.
Your support is greatly appreciated and has given us the strength and willpower to continue in our quest in search of the truth regarding the death of Deyda Hydara, to continue to demand for the expansion of the space for effective independent media participation and we hope serves as a strong reminder to journalists in The Gambia and elsewhere that speaking the truth and in defence of it at any cost, is as honourable today as it was in the beginning.
As stated earlier and aptly in Court by our two doyens Pap Saine and Sam Sarr, the Gambia Press Union and its members will today more than ever seek to defend the principles of freedom of expression, speak and stand up in defense of the truth and practice our profession in good faith.
The Union also reiterates its call on the Gambia Government to:
• Conduct proper and professional investigations into the death of Deyda Hydra and bring to an end the speculation and counter speculation regarding circumstances surrounding his death;
• Comply with the ECOWAS Court order on the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh;
• Emulate progressive West African and other states by scrapping all the media-related laws regarding sedition and defamation.
• Work towards the drafting and debate of Freedom of Information and Access to Information laws as provided for in Article 66 of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty.
• Evaluate its relationship with the Gambian media and, based on mutual respect, engage in consultations geared towards mapping the way forward for enhancing and strengthening Independent media participation.
Ndey Tapha Sosseh, President

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