Gambia Case Demonstrates Disdain for Press Freedom
Freedom House condemns the politically-motivated conviction of six Gambian journalists on sedition and criminal defamation charges and calls for their immediate release.
The journalists, working for independent newspapers The Point and Foroyaa, were arrested in June after republishing a Gambia Press Union statement criticizing President Yahya Jammah for his comments about the unsolved murder of newspaper editor Deyda Hydara. All six journalists received sentences of two years in prison and fines of about $18,000 on Thursday. Prior to the sentences, Jammah appeared on state television to threaten independent journalists and warn that the defendants could not hide behind "so-called press freedom."
"These convictions and President Jammah's comments demonstrate a shocking disdain for the basic principles of press freedom," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "These journalists should be released immediately and the National Assembly should repeal the Gambia’s disgraceful criminal libel laws."
The Gambian legislature strengthened criminal penalties for press offenses, including libel, only days before the killing of Hydara in 2004. In addition to legal restrictions, independent journalists in the Gambia face violence and extralegal intimidation, leading a number of journalists to flee to country in recent years. The Independent, a leading private newspaper, was shut down in 2006 and Radio France Internationale was temporarily banned by the government in 2008.
The Gambia is ranked Partly Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in the Gambia since 1972.
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