The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders have called on Gambian justice minister Edward Gomez to quickly produce evidence of his claim that “Chief” Ebrima Manneh, a journalist who has been missing since July 2006, is still alive.
In a newspaper interview last weekend, the minister insisted that Manneh was alive and “somewhere.”
|Justice Minister, Edu Gomez|
In an interview for the privately-owned Daily News, Gomez said: “Now, let me tell you with a high degree of certainty that Ebrima Chief Manneh is somewhere. We shall talk about this case at a later stage when it is more convenient; when I can prove to you beyond any reasonable doubt (…)
But we will cross our bridge when we get to it. Then some of you journalists will be ashamed of what you published. Let the right time come, that’s all I can tell you.”
"A reporter for the pro-government Daily Observer, Manneh has been missing since 7 July 2006, when he was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency for unclear reasons shortly after an African Union summit in Banjul," RSF said.
In July 2008, a court attached to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordered the Gambian government to free Manneh and pay him compensation, but the government did not comply and continued to provide no information about his whereabouts.
On 6 April 2009, then justice minister Marie Saine-Firdaus denied that Manneh had ever been detained in a Gambian prison. But, speaking on condition of anonymity, a police officer employed at Banjul’s Mile Two prison said a week later that he last saw Manneh in the prison in 2008, before he was taken away one night by a plain-clothes police officer. No sighting has been reported since then.
Several Gambian journalists have said they suspect Manneh is dead and President Yahya Jammeh himself said in March of this year: “Let me make it very clear that the government has nothing to do with the death or disappearance of Chief Manneh.”
But Reporters Without Borders has never regarded Manneh as dead and he continues to be listed as imprisoned on the Reporters Without Borders website.
Gambia’s president since 1994, Jammeh has for years been on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom (http://en.rsf.org/predator-yahya-jammeh,37195.html).” Another presidential election is due to be held on 24 November.
- Gambian justice minister should disclose Manneh’s fate
An official of the Gambian government publicly indicated knowledge of the whereabouts of missing journalist Ebrima “Chief” Manneh, according to news reports. The government, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in Manneh’s 2006 disappearance, must immediately disclose the details of his status, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on October 12.
In an interview on Thursday with the local Daily News, the Gambia’s justice minister, Edward Gomez, denied Manneh was in state custody but declared: ” I can tell you that Ebrima Chief Manneh is alive,” without elaborating. In another interview on Monday with Agence France-Presse, Gomez said: “Chief Ebrima Manneh is alive and we will talk about this case later.”
In March, President Yahya Jammeh referenced the death of Manneh, who was picked up by state security agents at the offices of his newspaper, Daily Observer, in July 2006, though he continued to deny that the government was involved in his disappearance. Last month, Gambian Vice-President Isatou Njie-Saidy also denied that the government arrested Manneh and said she had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
“The public comments by Gambian Justice Minister Edward Gomez on the fate of Ebrima ‘Chief’ Manneh are a step toward finally breaking the official silence on his case,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The minister should immediately relieve the anguish endured by Manneh’s family and colleagues by revealing his knowledge of the journalist’s whereabouts, health and legal status.”
Manneh was sighted in government custody in December 2006 and in July 2007, according to CPJ research. Agence France-Presse quoted an unnamed police official in 2009 as saying that Manneh had last been sighted at Mile 2 prison in 2008 and speculating that he was no longer alive.
The Gambia has resisted international appeals to free Manneh by, among others, six U.S. senators, UNESCO , and the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States.