The Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has delayed its ruling in the case against The Gambia government about the disappearance of Gambian journalist Ebrima Manneh, a reporter with the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper. Manneh was arrested at the paper’s premises in July 2006 by agents of Gambia’s notorious National Intelligence Agency.
The Media Foundation for West Africa asked the ECOWAS Court of Justice to compel the Gambian government to immediately release journalist Manneh. The court was supposed to have ruled on the case November 20. Professor Kwame Karikari is executive director of the Media Foundation of West Africa. He told VOA the court deferred judgment because the presiding judge was not well.
“The court adjourned the hearing to Monday, November 26. They didn’t rule because of their own bureaucratic processes. Also because the judge who handles the case was not well. So technically, they couldn’t call the case,” he said.
Karikari also said the court asked defense lawyers to produce evidence that the Gambian government did arrest journalist Manneh.
“We had complained about the Gambian government of having arrested this journalist. We must produce evidence that he was actually arrested by this government. There are Gambian workmates who were there when he was picked up by the national intelligence agencies. So what we are trying to do is to get these witnesses to come to testify on Monday, November 26 when the court sits again,” Karikari said.
He said the defense will likely ask for adjournment if it cannot get the witnesses out of The Gambia.
“You know that with this government, it is not easy to find a Gambian witness to come out to testify. So we are working hard to try and get any of them who were there when he was arrested to come to Abuja on Monday,” he said.
Karikari said the new court demand for witnesses does not put the case against the Gambian government in jeopardy.
“It will not be in jeopardy. We know we have witnesses but cannot produce them because of fear of reprisal by the Gambian government. We will produce the names and identities of as many people who we know witnessed the arrest. But if the government would not allow them to come out, that would another matter for the court to look at,” Karikari said.
Karikari said the Media Foundation of West Africa is determined to see the case against the Gambian government to the end because the foundation wants to make sure that African governments are held accountable for violating the rights of their own citizens.