Thursday, July 12, 2012

Observer reporter released from detention

Sidiq Asemota
Sidiq Asemota, the senior legal correspondent of the Daily Observer newspaper, was yesterday July 11th 2012, freed by Justice Nkea at the Special Criminal Court in Banjul, after spending a night in the State CentralPrison following a court order made by the said judge.

When Asemota appeared at the court on Wednesday, he was asked about a story he wrote captioned “Two sentenced for forgery”. “Mr Sidiq Asemota, you are arrested by the order of this court dated July 9 2012 for your publication in the Daily Observer newspaper on the said date, in which you reported that two accused persons were arraigned in this court and pleaded guilty to an economic crime of D190, 000 and this court fined them to pay compensation of only D80, 000. Were you in court on that day?”


Asemota replied in the negative. Asked as to where he got his information, Asemota said he got it from the charge sheet given to him by the director of Public Prosecution (DPP). He insisted that he got the information from the DPP despite series of question asked to that effect by the judge.

“Are you aware of the impression that the publication gives to the general public that this court is not sensitive to the laws of the state. Are you aware of that?” the judge asked.“No my lord,” the Asemota replied. He added that he was reliably informed by the charge sheet given to him by the DPP.

The Special Criminal Court judge then asked Asemota if he got the said judgment from the court. Asemota said he did not, and maintained that he got the charge sheet from the DPP. He then offered an apology to the judge, saying “my lord I am sorry, I have made a mistake. It has never been my intention to misinform the public. I have been doing this job for about 20 years now”. The judge then stated that as a journalist, he ought to have now been well informed about court proceedings considering his years of reporting.

At that juncture he made known to the court what he read in the Daily Observer newspaper that very morning. “This morning, I read the Daily Observer newspaper and it said the warrant I issued was shocking.Who is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Observer newspaper?” In reply, Asemota said we don’t have editor-in-chief.

He then put it to Asemota that he found that comment unacceptable and therefore shall issue a summon for Pa Malick Faye to appear in court the next day to explain why he should not be charged for contempt of court. He then ordered Asemota to republish the judgment on the said case in the next publication of the Daily Observer and bring a copy to the court so as to determine whether he did as he was told by the court, before ordering him to step down from the box.

However, when the Observer team was on the verge of leaving the court room, the judge spotted Pa Malick Faye in the midst of people and requested him to come over at the rear of the court. “I saw in the Daily Observer newspaper that the decision of this court is shocking, were these words coming from you?” Justice Nkea asked MD Faye, and the latter replied in the affirmative.

He was asked to sit down to be later dealt with accordingly, but when he was recalled back, he was asked as to what prompted him to say that he found the decision of the court shocking. Faye explained in detail the reason behind his comments.

The judge then said that the court has no right to inform the Daily Observer about the case. He added that the court is a sacrosanct and impartial institution and that the court does not belong to any media fraternity. MD Faye later replied by saying “My lord, I am sorry then if you find it that way”.

The judge further stated that his court has no obligation with the Daily Observer, instead it is the reporter who has an obligation with the Daily Observer newspaper and as such the court cannot inform the paper anything about the case at hand.

Justice Nkea also asked whether Faye was aware of how Sidiq got the said story, and Faye replied that he did not know that Sidiq was not in court at the time of the said judgment. He added that if he [Observer] knew that he was not there, they would not have acted that way.

The judge then recalled series of other cases involving journalists including the recent case involving a journalist who was fined D100, 000. He said he sees no difference between that case and the one at hand. He then discharged MD Faye too.

SOURCE - Daily Observer

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