Thursday, January 16, 2014

Statements issued by media rights groups on the detention of two journalists in The Gambia


  • Journalist reporting on refugee issues detained in the Gambia
  • The Gambia: Two journalists facing prosecution for conspiracy 
  • TWO Gambian journalists unlawfully detained  
  • Gambian journalists charged with giving false information
  • GPU Statement on Musa Sherrif and Sainey Marenah


Journalist reporting on refugee issues detained in the Gambia

International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) is concerned about the arrest of two journalists by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on Monday 13 January 2014. The publisher and managing editor of the private newspaper The Voice and Pan African News Agency (PANA) stringer in The Gambia, Musa Sheriff and freelance reporter Sainey Marehna were arrested in their Serekunda office and driven to Sanyang Coastal village police station, which is about 35 kilometres away from the capital city of Banjul.
For many years Musa Sheriff has been reporting as a journalist the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in the Gambia and in the region. Mr. Sheriff and his Voice newspaper recently followed the case of five refugees who were detained by the Gambian Department of Immigration and charged with giving false information when they wrote a petition to the president protesting their living conditions in the Gambia. The refugees were released after four months in detention in the central prison of Banjul.
The journalists are charged by the police under Section 14 of the Criminal Code for allegedly publishing false news. NIA said their arrests were in connection with a story published by the weekly Voice newspaper in early December reporting that 19 “green boys”, members of the youth wing of President Yahya Jammeh’s party, defected to the opposition.
IRRI considers this arrest to be a violation of international protections of freedom of expression. Gambia is a party to the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights which protects freedom of expression in Article 9. In addition, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom … to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.”
Although there is no international legal provision which explicitly outlaws false news laws, the UN Committee on Human Rights has stated: “the prosecution and punishment of journalists for the crime of publication of false news merely on the ground, without more, that the news was false, [is a] clear violation of Article 19 of the Covenant.”
Moreover, this incident forms part of a pattern of attacks on the press which has led IRRI to observe an increasing number of Gambian journalists seeking asylum in neighboring countries, including Senegal. For example, in December 2004, Deyda Haidara, the editor of the independent newspaper, The Point, was shot dead in his car by an unidentified gunman. Chief Ebrima Manneh, a journalist with the Daily Observer, was arrested by the NIA when he attempted to republish a BBC report criticizing President Yahya Jammeh immediately after the African Union Summit in Banjul in 2006. He has not been seen since then.
The two journalists were released on bail on 16 January 2014 after three days in detention, but are still facing charges and will appear before the Banjul Court on 21 January 2014. IRRI remains concerned about the charges facing Sheriff and his colleague and urges the government to drop the charges against them. Source: International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
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The Gambia: Two journalists facing prosecution for conspiracy
ARTICLE 19
17 Jan 2014
This content is available in French and English
Two Gambian journalists, Musa Sheriff, editor-in-chief and owner of The Voice, a tri-weekly private newspaper, and Sainey Marenah, a reporter, were arrested on Monday 13 by the Gambian security forces of the National Intelligence Agency and then released on bail on Thursday 16 by the courts.
The newspaper’s editorial team and other sources put these arrests down to an article on defections from the party in power.
The offending article, written by Marenah and published by The Voice in December 2013, stated that 19 members of President Yahya Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) had left the party to join the United Democratic Party (UDP), the main opposition formation. APRC had refuted these reports and their corrections for the record were published in The Voice on 12 December 2013.
On 15 January 2014, ARTICLE 19 got in touch by phone with a journalist at The Voice newspaper, who explained that Sheriff and Marenah had been transferred to the Banjul police. At that time, however, the Office of the Prosecutor affirmed that it was unaware of the arrests or the charges made against them.
On Thursday 16 January 2014, the two journalists were brought before Banjul’s court of first instance. According to local sources, they are facing prosecution for conspiracy and have been released on bail in the sum of 20,000 Dalasi, or approximately US$500. They must reappear before the judge on 21 January 2014.
It is hard to believe that journalists would be arrested and deprived of their freedom simply for reporting that some party members had jumped ship,” declared Fatou Jagne Senghor, ARTICLE 19 Regional Director for West Africa, who went on to say that “such inoffensive and purely political reporting should never be a reason for arresting journalists, in what is clearly an abuse of the judicial system.”
This is not the first time that journalists have suffered attacks on their freedom of opinion and expression in The Gambia.
ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns these arbitrary arrests that once again violate the freedom of expression and information of both journalists.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Gambian authorities to cease the petty prosecution of Musa Sheriff and Sainey Marenah and to stop harassing and intimidating the Gambian press and citizens. Source: ARTICLE19 West Africa
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GPU Statement on Musa Sherrif and Sainey Marenah

The Gambia Press Union is concern over the detention of Musa Sherrif, publisher of The Voice newspaper and Sainey Marenah, a freelance journalist, who were on Monday arrested and detained by state security agents.

Musa Sherrif was arrested at his office by plain clothes officers. He was later taken to Sanyang Police Station where he was cautioned and charged with giving false information to a public servant.

Sainey Marenah, who was asked to report at Sanyang Police station was also cautioned and charged by the investigating officer.

The duo that is being investigated in connection with a publication on The Voice newspaper alleging the defection of nineteen ‘Green Youth’ to the opposition United Democratic Party, was denied bail by the State security agents.  

One of the officers indicated that they received an executive order to investigate the story pertaining to the alleged defection of the 19 Green Youth published by The Voice newspaper.
Since The Voice newspaper has accorded the APRC space to refute the story it published on the purported defection of the “Green Youth,” it means the paper has no intention whatsoever to prejudice the ruling APRC party.

The duo was on Wednesday transferred to Banjul Police Station where they are currently held.
Based on the foregoing, we are appealing to the country’s authorities to drop the charges against the duo and allow them to carry on with their normal duties. Source: Gambia Press Union (GPU)
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TWO Gambian journalists unlawfully detained 

Journalists Musa Sheriff and Sainey M.K. Marenah have been in detention since 13 January.

They have been charged with “giving false information to a public officer” following an article published in the privately-owned newspaper The Voice. 

They are prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Musa Sheriff and Sainey M.K. Marenah were arrested on 13 January in Serekunda and transferred to the Police Headquarters in Banjul on 15 January. They have been charged with giving false information to a public officer, under the controversial clauses of chapter XIII of the Criminal Code, often used to target journalists who are exercising their freedom of expression.

The date of the trial has not yet been communicated. Under the Gambian Constitution, they must be brought before a court of law within 72 hours.

On 9 December 2013 Gambian newspaper The Voice published an article reporting on the defection of youth supporters of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction (APRC) party to the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). The Voice later published a rejoinder after the APRC contested the story.

On 13 January at 8am four plain clothes police officers arrived at The Voice’s offices in Serekunda.

The officers interrogated staff and requested copies of the 9 December article. At around midday the officers took Musa Sheriff, the editor in chief, to the Sanyang police station.

According to a journalist who witnessed the arrest, one of the officers stated he was a police investigator acting under the directive of the President of the Republic of The Gambia.

Sainey M.K. Marenah, a freelance journalist and author of the story, was summoned to Sanyang police station and arrested at 5pm the same day. The two journalists have been in detention since then. Source: Amnesty International

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Gambian journalists charged with giving false information

Lagos, Nigeria, January 14, 2014--Gambian authorities should drop the charges against two journalists who have been held since Monday on accusations of giving false information, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
State security agents arrested Musa Sheriff, a Liberian citizen and editor of the thrice-weekly independent newspaper The Voice, and Sainey Marenah, a freelance journalist, and charged them under the criminal code with "providing false information to a public officer," local journalists told CPJ. Police said they were acting on orders from President Yahya Jammeh, news reports said.
If convicted under this charge, the journalists face five years in jail and/or a fine of 50,000 dalasi (about US$1,515), according to news reports. They have been denied bail.
Sheriff and Marenah were arrested in connection with a Voice story that Marenah wrote, which was published in early December 2013 and called "19 Green Youths Defect to UDP," according to news reports. The story discussed a claim by the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) that 19 youth supporters of President Jammeh, known as "Green Youths," had defected from the ruling political party and joined the UDP.
The ruling party dismissed the claim as baseless, The Voice said in a subsequent edition, according to news reports.
"The charges against Musa Sheriff and Sainey Marenah are a reminder that the Gambian government is determined to stamp out criticism and crush the independent press," said Peter Nkanga, CPJ's West Africa consultant. "We call on authorities to withdraw all charges and release the two journalists immediately." – Source: Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

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