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Six Gambian journalists sentenced to prison

Six Gambian journalists, including three executive members of the Gambian Press Union, were sentenced to terms in prison on Thursday. They were sentenced to a mandatory sentence of two years' imprisonment and fined 250,000 Dalasis (US$10,000) on two of the six counts. The journalists were convicted on six counts of sedition and defamation. They have been sent to Mile 2 State Central Prison. Failure to pay the fine will result in having to serve two extra years for each count. Amnesty International expressed dismay at the sentencing. "These journalists are prisoners of conscience, who are being punished for peacefully expressing their views. They should be released immediately and unconditionally," said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme. The six convicted journalists are: Emil Touray, Secretary General of the Gambian Press Union (GPU); Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Vice President of the GPU, Pa Modou Faal, Treasurer of the GPU; Pap Saine and Ebou Sawaneh, publisher and editor of Point newspaper; and Sam Sarr, editor of Foroyaa newspaper. Seven Gambian journalists were initially arrested on 15 June 2009 after publishing a Press Union statement that criticized President Yayha Jammeh for "inappropriate" comments made on state television about the unsolved 2004 murder of Point Editor Deyda Hydara. In an interview on state-run Gambia Radio and Television Service on 8 June, President Jammeh said that the government investigation into Hydara's slaying had stalled and suggested that interested journalists should "ask Deyda Hydara who killed him." All seven journalists were charged with sedition on 18 June, one was released on bail and the others were held in Mile 2 Prison. The remaining six were all released on bail on 22 June. Repression of the media has a long history in The Gambia. The lack of independence of the judiciary in cases involving journalists and human rights defenders is also increasing.   Amnesty International released the report "Gambia: Fear Rules", which highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in Gambia, in November 2008 at the 44th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights in Abuja, Nigeria. Amnesty International, along with civil society groups across Africa, organized a day of action on 22 July 2009 to protest continuing human rights violations in The Gambia, including repression of the media.