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Amnesty International 'Spies' Released on Bail in Gambia


Two Amnesty International delegates and a local journalist arrested in Gambia Saturday have been released on bail. The human rights watchdog Amnesty International says their detention demonstrates the deterioration of human rights in Gambia. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West Africa bureau in Dakar.

London-based specialists Tania Bernath, who holds both British and U.S. citizenship, and Nigerian Ayodele Ameen were in the tiny West African country researching human rights abuse.

Yaya Dampha, journalist with a pro-opposition daily paper, was arrested with them.

"It is tormenting, tormenting. It was not a nice experience at all," said Yaya Dampha.

He says the group was arrested on suspicion of spying. He says they were detained after visiting a remote prison in Basse, on the southern border with Senegal.

Dampha says a key member of the Gambian opposition, Ousman Jatta, has been held in the prison for over a year.

"This station happened to be one of the most sensitive stations because we found out that there is a state detainee at this prison, so they believe we were there to check this state detainee," he said.

Gambian Police Force spokesperson Inspector Sulayman Secka says the three were detained because they had not received official permission to visit the prison.

"They should have applied through the inspector general of police for permission," said Secka.

He says it is too early to say what crime they are suspected of.

"Well it is too hard to say as far as the matter is still being investigated," added Secka.

One of the lawyers on the case, Lamin Camara, has told reporters that the three have not been charged because the police can give no concrete reason for their arrest.

Amnesty International spokesman Elizabeth Mottershaw says the delegates had been sent to Gambia because human rights abuse is rife in the country.

"Our main concern in Gambia is freedom of expression. A number of journalists have been harassed in their work, have been detained, some have been released without charge after a period of detention, some have not," she said.

Mottershaw says opposition politicians, likewise, are often detained for long periods of time.

She says without freedom of expression, the country is without human rights.

"Freedom of expression is really at the heart of human rights work. If people cannot talk about issues it really goes to the heart of being able to claim human rights," continued Mottershaw.

According to press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh has become increasingly intolerant of criticism since taking power in a 1994 coup.

More than 10 journalists were arrested for extended period in 2006. One journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, disappeared over a year ago and has not been seen since.

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