The judgment of a high profile case against The Gambia government over its illegal and continued detention of a pro-government newspaper journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, has been rescheduled for 26 November by the Abuja-based Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States.
Apart from the absence of one of the judges, the sub-regional court that should have delivered the judgment on 20 November, asked the complainants to provide evidence that Manneh was indeed arrested by the government.
The Accra-based media watchdog - Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) - has filed a suit against The Gambia government, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Manneh who has gone missing since 7 July 2006.
A renowned Nigerian human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, is holding brief for the MFWA. Falana is a member of both the West Africa Bar Association and is a member of the MFWA's Network of Lawyers for the Defence of Journalists.
The Gambia government has deliberately refused to appear before the court.
The Executive Director of the MFWA, Kwame Karikari believed that the court's demand for witness will not jeopardise the case, as they will do their best to produce evidence of Manneh's arrest through some of his workmates who were present when the national intelligence agents picked him up.
“It will not be in jeopardy. We know we have witnesses but cannot produce them because of fear of reprisal by the Gambian government. We will produce the names and identities of as many people who we know witnessed the arrest. But if the government would not allow them to come out, that would another matter for the court to look at,” Karikari told 'VOA'.
This is the first time an ECOWAS member state has been taken to the sub-regional court over press freedom violations. But Karikari said it is meant to make sure that African governments are held accountable for violating the rights of their citizens.
ECOWAS member states endorsed the establishment of the Abuja court. The court has jurisdiction to hear and determine cases of human rights violations and its decisions are immediately enforceable.
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