UK-Gambia: UK trade unions and Amnesty International call for halt to journalists' trial

Representatives from Amnesty International, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) will this afternoon petition the Gambian High Commission in London to put a stop to the trial of seven journalists that is scheduled to begin in the Gambia today.

As a letter is handed in at the High Commission in Knightsbridge, protesters will be demonstrating outside on the street with placards.

The London protest is part of a series of demonstrations organised by the International Federation of Journalists which will be happening outside Gambian Embassies across the world, including Paris, Brussels, Stockholm and Rome.

Members of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) including the Vice President Sarata Jabbi-Dibba and the General Secretary Emil Touray, along with editors and a reporter from several of the country’s national newspapers were arrested by the National Intelligence Agency last month.

Their arrest followed the publication of a Gambian Press Union press release in The Point and Foroyaa newspapers. The release criticised the way that the President of the Gambia spoke about fellow journalist Deydra Hydara, a former press union president and editor of The Point newspaper who was murdered in 2004. It also reminded the government that no serious investigation has been made into Deydra Hydara's murder and that no one has been brought to justice.

The journalists have been charged with three counts of seditious publication.

Later today Amnesty International, the NUJ and the TUC will hand in a letter to the Gambian High Commission in London, urging the President to stop the trial and release the men. The letter expresses concern at the increasing deterioration of freedom of expression in the Gambia, and demands that the charges against the seven are dropped and the case dismissed.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“These seven journalists should not be put on trial. They are being punished simply for peacefully expressing their opinions. This is a disgrace and the Gambian authorities should immediately call a halt to this trial.

“Amnesty has documented several cases of journalists being persecuted in the Gambia for several years. Those who dare to express their views risk facing an array of abuses, including unlawful arrest, arbitrary detention, and torture.

“We urge the Gambian Government to put an end to this trial and to allow all journalists to exercise their rights to freely express their views without fear of reprisal.”

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

“The arrest and subsequent trial today of these journalists and union leaders in the Gambia on trumped up charges of sedition is an affront to freedom of expression and association, and a worrying development for others working in the media and running unions in that part of West Africa. They must be released immediately and all the unfounded charges levelled against them dropped.”

General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Jeremy Dear said: “These seven journalists have been locked up and put on trial for writing stories and press releases that would be part of normal democratic debate in most countries of the world.

“The NUJ calls for their immediate and unconditional release and for the Government of Gambia to change their media laws to allow genuine freedom of expression.”

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