Monday, August 10, 2009

Two bodies appeal to President Mills intervene in The Gambia situation
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) said on Monday that the charges against the six jailed Gambian Journalists were unconstitutional and untenable. The two therefore appealed to President John Evans Atta Mills to intervene directly through diplomatic means to get President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia to release the journalists immediately, end repression of free speech and stop the gross human rights abuses in the Gambia.The six were tried on six counts of "sedition" and criminal "defamation" charges and convicted on August 6, 2009 to a total of eight years imprisonment to run concurrently without any option of a fine. They were also ordered to pay an amount of 250,000 Gambian Dalasis (about 18,000 dollars) on each of the remaining two counts or serve another two years on each of the counts.The charges stemmed from a June 11, 2009 press statement that criticised President Jammeh over comments he had made slandering Deyda Hydara, co-proprietor and editor of the "The Point" who was murdered in 2004 by unknown assailants.At a joint press conference to register their protest against The Gambia authorities' decision to jail the journalists, one of whom is a nursing mother, Professor Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of MFWA, said they were appealing to President Mills to intervene based on the current MOU on the murdered Ghanaians. Prof. Karikari said the repressive regime of President Jammeh had held the country to ransom over the last 14 years, and that Ghana as a peace loving and democratic country could not sit by for the situations to explode before she used her limited resources to send soldiers there for peacekeeping."It has undermined the independence of almost all national institutions including the judiciary, which has been bastardized. Judges have been dismissed arbitrarily by the regime and the repressive conditions within the judiciary are forcing some to resign and take up other jobs," he added. Prof Karikari said the growing horrific human rights situation in neighbouring Gambia might roll back progress in the sub region if not checked."We contended that if steps are not taken for a peaceful improvement in the situation in the Gambia, the country will be propelled into a violent conflict by bad governance. The tension and fear prevailing in the Gambia can only lead to this unwanted eventuality," he added. Prof. Karikari said they would send a formal request to President Mills, as well as to the President of the ECOWAS Commission, the Chairman of ECOWAS, and the ECOWAS Council of the Wise to make the same appeal. Mr Akoto Ampaw, a Lawyer and Media Activist, said a team was in the Gambia three weeks ago in solidarity with the jailed journalists and had concluded that they were likely to be convicted because there were no laws in the Gambia. He said it was the responsibility of everybody to act in solidarity with colleagues in other parts of West Africa. Meanwhile, the West African Bar Association has also condemned the conviction and called on the African Union and ECOWAS to take urgent steps to compel President Jammeh to release the imprisoned journalists. It also asked him to comply with the order of the ECOWAS court made on June 5, 2008 for their immediate release.

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