- The Gambia government has been summoned to answer charges over the continued disappearnce of a pro-government newspaper journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, at the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)in Abuja, Nigeria.
The Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MWFA) disclosed the news in a press statement today.
The suit is a litmus test for the military-turned-civilian government of President Yahya
Jammeh that had been bent on repressing all sorts of freedoms, particularly that of press and speech since it illegally overthrew the democratic regime of the former President Sir Dawda Jawara in 1994.
The Abuja Court issued a hearing notice for a suit filed against The Gambia by the MFWA on behalf of Mr Manneh, who until his arrest by the security forces, had been a reporter of 'Daily Observer' in Banjul.
The application - filed by the MFWA through its Journalists' Legal Defence Programme - seeks an order from the sub-regional court to compel the Jammeh regime to immediately release Chief Manneh and compensate him adequately.
The hearing of the case commenses on 10 July this year, a day before the first anniversary of his arrest and detention incommunicado.
"Colleagues of Manneh witnessed his arrest by two plain-clothed personnel of the notorious political police, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), at the 'Daily Observer’s' premises onJuly 11, 2006. But the government and police claim they do not know his whereabouts of Manneh," MWFA claimed, adding that the government's reaction to his case simply means "Manneh has disappeared."
A Nigerian human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, who is also a member of the MWFA Legal Defence Network, filed the writ, describing Mr Manneh's arrest without a warrant and his continued detention as unlawful. The said the act violates his rights guaranteed under Articles 4, 5 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
He said it also violates Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which guarantees the "missing journalist's" right to personal liberty.
Despite widespread condemnations across the world by rights groups, The Gambia government blatantly refused to either release or charge him.
After eight months of his arrest, the policce officially denied ever arresting him and therefore urged the public to supply it with any "relevant information about him."
But news leaked that he was detained at the NIA headquarters and Mile II Central Prisons before being transferred from one police cell to another. He was reportedly spotted in a regional police cell after 188 days incommunicado.
The Gambia is the seat of the African Commission on Human and People's Right but its government had been known for unlawful arrests, detentions, murder, and closure of newspapers resulting in several journalists escaping into exile. Those practising journalists left behind resort to self-censorship as a means of protection and survival.
Last month, the MFWA and the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO)launched a campaign to end the impunity and attacks on free expression in The Gambia. A 63-page dossier of press freedom abuses since President Jammeh took power in 1994 was the gist of the anti-Gambia campaign.
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