English PEN welcomes the release of journalist Lamin Fatty on 5 June 2007 but deplores his criminal conviction. Fatty was found guilty of ‘publishing false news’ after two months in detention and a trial that has dragged on for almost a year. He was fined US$1,850 and jailed but was released soon after following payment of the fine by a local journalists’ union.
Lamin Fatty, a reporter for the Banjul-based bi-weekly newspaper The Independent, was arrested on 10 April 2006 in the wake of an article on the arrest of a number of alleged coup plotters which erroneously implicated a former government minister. Fatty was held incommunicado for two months, eventually released on bail 12 June 2006. During his time in custody it is understood that he was denied access to a lawyer.
Fatty faced charges under section 181 of the Gambian criminal code for publishing ‘false news’. His trial was extremely protracted due to its frequent adjournment, sometimes for apparently trivial reasons.
On 5 June 2007 the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court found Fatty guilty as charged and sentenced him to a D50,000 (US$1,850) fine or by default one year in prison. Fatty was jailed immediately but was released soon after when the Gambia Press Union (GPU), the country’s largest journalists’ union, paid the fine. It is understood that Fatty has filed an appeal.
On 24 March 2006, The Independent ran a piece that included a list of 23 well known figures supposedly arrested in connection with an abortive coup plot three days earlier. Samba Bah, former interior minister and former head of the National Intelligence Agency, was erroneously named. The 27 March issue carried an article in which Bah refuted the assertion that he had been arrested and an apology by the newspaper.
The editor and managing director of The Independent were arrested on 28 March and were released without charge on 20 April. Several other members of staff were also detained during the armed raid but released later the same day, also without charge. The Independent was forcibly closed by security services on 28 March 2006 and remains banned.
Meanwhile, the trial of US-based Gambian freelance journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh on charges of sedition continues. Manneh, who was arrested and detained for a week on her arrival in the Gambia in March 2007 faces a heavy prison sentence for writing articles critical of the Gambian President. As in Fatty’s case, the hearings have been continually delayed, most recently because the state counsel reportedly claimed that the date had ‘slipped his mind’ and the defence counsel failed to appear in court.
Attacks on journalists in the Gambia have been frequent in recent years, including unsolved arson attacks on media houses, arrests, extended secret detentions, disappearances and murders, promoting many to go into exile. Other current PEN cases include the 2006 disappearance of Daily Observer journalist Chief Ebrimah Manneh and the 2006 incommunicado detention and ongoing trial on charges of publishing ‘false news’ of The Independent reporter Lamin Fatty. 2004 saw the murder of prominent editor and journalist Deyda Hydara, who was in the process of setting up a PEN Centre in the Gambia.
For more information on recent attacks on the press in the Gambia, click here and here.
Please send appeals:
• Urging the Gambian authorities to quash the criminal conviction against Lamin Fatty;
• Calling for The Independent to be allowed to resume publishing and for the Gambian authorities to guarantee its protection;
• Take measure to curb attacks against journalists freely exercising their right to freedom of expression in the Gambia in accordance with the international human rights treaties to which Gambia is a party, including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
President H. E. Yahya A. A. Jammeh
Office of the President
Private Mail Bag
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: + 220 4227 034
Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice
Hon. Kebba Sanyang
Department of State for Justice and Attorney General’s Chambers
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: + 220 4225 352
H.E. Mr. Alpha Oumar Konare
Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union
P.O. Box 3243
Fax: +251 11 551 7844
It may be more effective to send emails to Gambian representatives in London:
Acting High Commissioner Mr Lang Yabou
The Gambia High Commission
57 Kensington Court
London W8 5DG
Fax: (020) 7937 9095
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/gambiajournalistlaminfattyconvicted/