The Gambia: Charges against journalists over executions demo must be dropped

Charges against two journalists detained after they applied for permission to hold a peaceful protest over the executions of nine death row inmates must be dropped by the Gambian authorities, Amnesty International said.

Baboucarr Ceesay, the First Vice President of The Gambia Press Union (GPU) and Abubacarr Saidykhan, an independent freelance journalist, were charged on 10 September with conspiracy to commit a felony. The two journalists were released later that day and were told to report to police headquarters next Monday.

Sources told Amnesty that the pair delivered a letter to the Gambian Police on Thursday 6 September to request a permit to hold a peaceful public demonstration the following day. But they were arrested later that evening after they went to a police station, at the request of police officials. They were taken to their homes on Friday where police conducted searches.

They were then held in detention without charge over the weekend – exceeding the maximum limit of 72 hours of detention without charge specified in the Gambian Constitution.

Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus said:

“This is yet another example of the Gambian government’s total intolerance of criticism.

“The Gambian authorities must immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Babourcarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan.  They have been targeted solely because they have tried to exercise their right to peaceful freedom of expression and assembly.

“The Gambian authorities must protect those who exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and ensure that journalists and human rights activists can carry out their work without interference from the government."

Notes to the Editor

  1. The letter which led to the arrest of the journalists was addressed to the Inspector General of Police and entitled: "Application for a permit to hold a peaceful demonstration." The letter states: “We will uphold our principle of no violence throughout the process [of the demonstration]. We want to demonstrate because we fear that if we sit and watch there might be another execution.”
  2. Attempts by their lawyer and the Gambian Press Union to visit them in detention were blocked.
  3. Amnesty repeatedly tried to confirm details of the journalists’ detention with the Gambian police, but the police did not provide any information.
  4. Amnesty International and 66 other international human rights and West African civil society organisations have expressed outrage at the executions that took place on 23 August, which were carried out in secret and without notification to the individuals executed or their families.

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