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ECOWAS Court Adjourns With No Ruling in Case Against Gambia

The Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is hearing a case brought against The Gambian Government about the disappearance of Gambian journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh has adjourned until January 2008. Manneh, a reporter at the Banjul-based Daily Observer newspaper, was arrested at the paper’s premises in July 2006 allegedly by agents of Gambia’s notorious National Intelligence Agency.

The Media Foundation for West Africa asked the ECOWAS Court to compel the Gambian government to immediately release journalist Manneh. Before adjourning Wednesday, the court heard testimonies from two Gambian journalists.

Professor Kwame Karikari is executive director of the Media Foundation of West Africa. He told VOA the journalists risked their lives to testify.

“There were two witnesses from The Gambia, both of them Gambian journalists. One of them gave witness as somebody who was a witness to the arrest of Chief Manneh by some plain-clothes secret police agents. The second witness, also a journalist, had actually seen Chief Manneh in a police station last year December,” he said.

Karikari, who described Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh as a rogue leader, said the Media Foundation was not sure if the journalists would be able to leave The Gambia.

“One of them lived in The Gambia until last Friday when he left Gambia to come to Abuja in Nigeria for this purpose. The other one had lived in The Gambia until just about six weeks ago, and he has had to flee for his life. Certainly we were not sure we would get people so easily because of the situation. But luckily it appears to us that so many people are actually disgusted with the government’s rule and also its arrest of journalists,” Karikari said.

He said the Media Foundation of West Africa will help resettle the journalists since they cannot go back to The Gambia for fear they could get arrested by the government.

“We do know that these two gentlemen cannot go back to The Gambia. It means that the Media Foundation is now responsible for these guys in terms of insuring that they are safe and also have somewhere to live. Since they’ve left their jobs and their country, they are jobless. They must survive; they have families, and all of this has become the responsibility of the Media Foundation,” he said.

Karikari said the Media Foundation has a lot of interest in the case because it wants to insure the freedom of Gambian journalists and citizens.

He said Gambia cannot claim sovereignty because it is a signatory to the ECOWAS Community Court.

“The Gambian government is signatory to the convention that established the court. And in any case the Gambian government has appeared in this court before in a case, which was a commercial dispute between West African citizens and the Gambian government. They appeared in that court and got the court to allow the case to be settled out of court. So it is not something that the Gambian government can say does not apply to the Gambia. If it does appear it is because the Gambian government is guilty,” Karikari said.