Media

Gambia: Reporter for shuttered newspaper convicted

10 June 2007 at 09:05 | 2072 views

A court in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul,
last Tuesday fined a reporter for a now-banned newspaper
in connection with a March 2006 story reporting the
arrest of several suspects in the aftermath of a
purported coup attempt, according to local journalists
and news reports.

Lamin Fatty of the private bi-weekly
The Independent was fined 50,000 dalasi (US$1,850) on
charges of publishing false information under Gambia’s
criminal code, defense lawyer Lamin Camara told CPJ.
Fatty would have had to serve a year in prison had he
been unable to pay the fine. He was jailed immediately
after the ruling, in fact, but was released after the
Gambia Press Union (GPU) paid the fine, local
journalists said. Fatty has filed an appeal, Camara
said.

Fatty was charged a year ago in connection with a
March 24, 2006, story incorrectly reporting that
former Interior Minister Samba Bah was among more than
20 people detained in the wake of a purported coup
attempt.

The paper, known for its critical coverage of
President Yahya Jammeh’s government, subsequently ran
Bah’s response and its own apology, but intelligence
agents sealed off the paper and detained Fatty
incommunicado for two months. General Manager Madi
Ceesay, who is also GPU president, and Editor Musa
Saidykhan were detained for three weeks apiece but
later released without charge.

“We condemn the criminal conviction of Lamin Fatty
whose case highlights the authorities’ pattern of
using extrajudicial detention and harsh criminal
penalties against the press,” CPJ Executive Director
Joel Simon said. “We call on the appeals court to
overturn Lamin Fatty’s conviction and we reiterate our
call to the Gambian authorities to lift all
restrictions on The Independent.”

In April, a military court sentenced 10 army officers
to lengthy prison terms in connection with the coup
attempt, according to international news reports.
“If a simple reporter who has no say about the final
content of an article is held responsible for
publishing false news, then, this verdict sets a
dangerous precedent in our country,” Fatty told CPJ.

Another journalist, political commentator Fatou Jaw
Manneh of the U.S.-based opposition Web site
All-Gambian was charged with sedition in April in
connection with commentary critical of Jammeh that was
published in The Independent in 2004.
Last month, CPJ named the Gambia one of the world’s
worst backsliders on press freedom.
CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit
organization that works to safeguard press freedom
worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.

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