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Gambia's Government Faces Judgment Day Before ECOWAS Court

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to rule Tuesday in a case brought against The Gambia Government on behalf of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh. Manneh, a reporter at the Banjul-based Daily Observer newspaper, was arrested at the paper’s premises in July 2006 by agents of Gambia’s notorious National Intelligence Agency. He is one of many Gambian journalists who have either been arrested by the government of President Yahya Jammeh or forced to flee the country.

The Media Foundation for West Africa asked the ECOWAS Court of Justice to compel the Gambian government to immediately release journalist Manneh. This is the first time that an African government has been taken to court on continental and sub-regional level.

Professor Kwame Karikari is executive director of the Media Foundation of West Africa. He told VOA the court will find the Gambian Government guilty.

“It is obvious to us that the court will rule in the favor of Chief Manneh and the Media Foundation of West Africa because all the evidence shows that Yahya Jammeh’s intelligence squad picked up our man and have hidden him. And the government has failed two times to appear. So the court, we believe, will decide properly that the government of The Gambia is Guilty,” he said.

Karikari described President Yahya Jammeh as a rogue leader who he said has no regard for his country’s constitution and judiciary.

“We suspect that Yahya Jammeh’s government will continue with its attitude of impunity and not respond accordingly to the court’s ruling because that’s his character. He defies his own country’s constitution, abuses the judiciary in his own country, and pretends to be a doctor treating people with very serious illness. So every thing shows that he’s not a trustworthy person. Yahya Jammeh is a rogue, and he’s not going to respect any law,” Karikari said.

At their just concluded conference in Nairobi, Kenya, African editors decided to from now on speak with one voice in dealing with issues of press freedom across the continent.

Karikari welcomed the decision of the African editors. He said every organization must work to improve human rights in Africa.

“It’s part of the work to improve the human rights situation in Africa. So every organization that represents any group of Africans must make the human rights of their members a priority. And we think that this a very important test for all of Africa whether or not the mechanisms that we have put in place to seek justice in cases concerning human rights would act in the spirit and the interest of the African people, or whether they would behave in a way that only satisfies the heads of state right or wrong,” Karikari said.

He also said depending on the outcome of the case against the Gambian government it would make or unmake the ECOWAS because the case challenges the commitment of ECOWAS leaders to the institutions that they themselves have set up to protect human rights.

Karikari said the case against President Yahya Jammeh’s government marked the first time that a media organization has taken a sitting government to court on African continental or sub-regional level. He said Africans everywhere should continue to use the institutions set up on the continent to protect human rights whether the Media Foundation of West Africa wins or loses in Tuesday’s court ruling.