The Gambia: Journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh on Trial for Sedition

***UPDATE: The fate of Fatou Jaw Manneh remains uncertain as her case file has reportedly gone missing. At a hearing on 17 March 2008, the trial magistrate, Buba Jawo, said there was no file before him pertaining to the case. Manneh’s case has since been adjourned indefinitely, and she remains stranded in The Gambia, unable to return to her home in the US, where she had been living for the past decade. ***

English PEN protests the trial of US-based Gambian freelance journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh following her arrest and week-long detention on her arrival in the Gambia in March 2007. Manneh is on trial for sedition for writing articles critical of the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and faces a heavy prison sentence if convicted. Her case was due to resume on 20 April 2007. PEN believes that the criminal charges faced by Manneh are a violation of her right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Gambian Constitution and international human rights treaties. It is calling for all charges against her to be dropped, or alternatively for assurances that her trial will be fair and she will not receive a prison sentence.
Manneh, a contributor to the US-based opposition website, a former reporter with the Gambian private newspaper Daily Observer and a pro-democracy activist, was arrested by officers of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) at the international airport in the Gambian capital, Banjul, on 28 March 2007 upon her arrival from the USA. She was detained for a week, in contravention of the Gambian Constitution, which states that individuals be brought before a court within 72 hours. During her detention Manneh was denied access to a lawyer and to her family. 

On 4 April Manneh finally appeared before a court in Kanifing, 12 km from the capital. She was charged on three counts of sedition under Gambia’s criminal code: ‘intention to commit sedition’, ‘publication of seditious words’ and ‘publication of false news intended to cause public fear and alarm to the Gambian public’. Each count carries a maximum prison term of two years or a fine or both. Manneh pleaded not guilty and was released on bail of 25,000 dalasis (US$900). The NIA has confiscated Manneh’s travel documents.
Manneh’s lawyer argued that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case as the alleged offences took place when Manneh was outside Gambia, but was overruled on 11 April. According to local reports, her lawyer then argued that Manneh’s statements to the NIA had been made under duress and applied for a ‘trial within a trial’ (voir dire) on 13 April. This request was also turned down and the court was adjourned until 20 April.

Manneh has been living in the USA since gaining political asylum in 1994, following the coup that brought President Jammeh to power. She is understood to have returned to the Gambia to pay tribute to her late father.
The articles Manneh is being prosecuted for include an interview she gave in which she accused President Yahya Jammeh of ‘tearing our beloved country to shreds’ and called him a ‘bundle of terror’. The interview was first published in the now banned bi-weekly newspaper The Independent in June 2004, and later published on several websites, including in October 2005 (see In 2003 Manneh wrote an article for The Independent focusing on Gambia’s endemic poverty and corruption (‘Jammeh under the Microscope’) which resulted in the arrest and detention of the paper’s editor, Abdoulie Sey. The Independent was shut down by the Gambian government in March 2006 and has not been allowed to resume publication.
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. 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 calling on the Gambian authorities to:

• Drop the criminal charges against Fatou Jaw Manneh, which English PEN believes contravene her right to freedom of expression under the Gambian Constitution and 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
• Failing this, ensure that she receives a fair trial that meets international human rights standards, and is not given a prison sentence
• Take measure to curb attacks against journalists freely exercising their right to freedom of expression in the Gambia


President H. E. Yahya A. A. Jammeh
Office of the President
Private Mail Bag
State House,
Banjul, Republic of the Gambia
Fax: 220 4227 034
Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice
Mrs. Marie Saine-Firdaus

Department of State for Justice and Attorney General’s Chambers
Marina Parade
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
Addis Ababa
Fax: 251 11 551 7844
It may be more effective to send appeals to Gambian representatives in London:

HE Mr Tamsir Jallow
The Gambia High Commission
57 Kensington Court
London W8 5DG
Fax: 020 7937 9095

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