Press Statement: US senator calls for Gambian journalist's release

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is extremely satisfied that gradually the abominable human rights situation in the Gambia, particularly, the arrest and subsequent detention of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, is gaining international attention.

Manneh, a reporter of the Daily Observer, a privately-owned -pro-government newspaper was arrested on July 7, 2006 but has not been charged with any offence, neither has the government acknowledged holding him. In early June, ECOWAS’s Community Court upheld MFWA’s request for the journalist’s release. Since then several calls have been made to the Gambian authorities to comply with the court order without success.

The latest to add his voice to the plight of Manneh is a Democrat Party senator, Richard J Durbin, the assistant majority leader of the US Senate. Addressing his colleagues on July 30, 2008, Durbin said “my direct request to the Gambian Embassy here in Washington had also been met with shameful silence”.

On the Gambian government’s refusal to appear before the ECOWAS court during the trial of the case, Senator Durbin asked “Is the Gambian government so afraid of one its own reporters that it cannot even acknowledge his detention”. He added that “I say to President Jammeh: Release this reporter. Let him return to his family”.

“Sadly, Manneh’s case is not isolated one in the Gambia. In December 2004, a critic of President Jammeh, and press freedom advocate, Deyda Hydara, was shot and killed. His murder is yet to be solved or investigated”, Dublin told the House. 

The senator concluded by urging the US Senate to be “a forceful advocate for these kinds of blatant human rights abuses. Doing so is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do in terms of our engagement abroad and in demonstrating our American values”.

The call by the US Senator followed an earlier one by Momodou Sanneh, the Minority Leader in the Gambian Parliament, for the government to "deal with the matter.

"MFWA encourages human rights defenders, press freedom advocates and civil society in general to intensify their advocacy, since that is one of the surest forms of protection for journalists and individuals who seek to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and expression.

We repeat our call on African governments to rededicate themselves to Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which stipulates: «Every individual shall have the right to receive information. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law».

Issued by the MFWA, Accra. August 1, 2008

Media Foundation for West Africa