Six Gambian journalists imprisoned for defamation and sedition were all released on Presidential pardon on Thursday.
“Amnesty International is overjoyed at the release of the journalists, who were wrongly convicted in the first place,” said Tania Bernath, researcher on the Gambia for Amnesty International. “Their families must be relieved and happy that they are safely back with them.”
The six had been sentenced on 6 August to a mandatory sentence of two years’ imprisonment and fined 250,000 Dalasis (US$10,000). They were being held at Mile 2 prison.
Amnesty International had considered the journalists to be prisoners of conscience and had called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The six 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.
They were 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.
According to media reports, in an 8 June interview on state-run Gambia Radio and Television Service, President Jammeh said the government investigation into Hydara’s slaying had stalled and suggested that interested journalists should “ask Deyda Hydara who killed him”.
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.