- A Gambian journalist of the sealed bi-weekly newspaper, 'The Independent', was convicted by a regional court to either pay US $2, 000 or in default serve a year in prison.
His attorney, Lamin Camara, vows to appeal against the conviction at the High Court.
Magistrate Buba Jawo of Kanifing, 10 km from the capital Banjul convicted Fatty over a 24 March 2006 article published by 'The Independent' “23 coup plotters arrested.”
The article listed the names of 23 key military, political and other figures who had been purportedly arrested in connection with the abortive coup on 21 March 2006. The list included Samba Bah, the former Minister of Interior and Director General of the National Intelligence Agency.
Bah angrily reacted to the story and asked the paper to apologise to him. The paper ran a retraction on the story in its following edition.
Despite the retraction and apology, heavily-armed security forces raided the paper’s offices the following day arrested its manager and editor, Madi Ceesay and Musa Saidykhan for three weeks during which they were subjected to cruel torture. Fatty was arrested ten days later and illegally held for more than two months.
Both Ceesay and Saidykhan are key figures of the local press union.
The paper has since then been closed by the government 28 March 2006.
The same story was first published by another Gambian tabloid, but the authorities ignored that and decided to clamp down on The Independent, which clearly indicated that the move was well calculated to punish the country’s critical and most read newspaper.
Instead of Corporal Samba Bah who was arrested in connection with the coup, 'The Independent' had mistakenly referred to the former Interior Minister.
It was widely believed that the Gambia government had used the purported foiled coup as a platform to hook all its perceived enemies, including the media.
Media watchdogs wonder why the government has deliberately refused to investigate the brutal shooting to death of Gambia’s leading newspaper editor, Deyda Hydara and continue to terrorise journalists, forcing over 60% of them into exile.
Deyda, the editor and co-founder of the tri-weekly, 'The Point', was killed on 16 December 2004, a day after Gambian parliament enacted two obnoxious media laws. Hydara was an outspoken critic of these laws. Lamin Fatty has become the first casualty of these laws.
“Pay up or be imprisoned, this is the threat that President Yahya Jammeh now wants to hold over his country’s press,” Leonard Vincent of Reporters Without Borders, sums up Jammeh’s latest moves.
Gabriel Baglo, the director of IFJ Africa office, described the sentence as “harsh and unwarranted.
“There is no need to convict Fatty who has already been illegally detained for two months and most especially when the paper had issued a corrigendum and an apology in relation to the said publication. The heavy fine imposed on Fatty by the Magistrate is unrealistic and uncalled for.”
Though hosting the continental commission on human and people’s rights, Gambia has of late been known for continuously infringing on the rights of its citizens, particularly journalists who have become victims of alleged official arson, killing, illegal arrest, abduction, among others.
A pro-government newspaper reporter, Ebrima Manneh, had been missing for a year. He was arrested in his office on 7 July, shortly after the African Union Summit took place in the country, yet the government denied holding him.
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