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Musa Saidykhan and Ebrima Manneh: Justice Subverted by the State

In 2006, Gambian journalists Musa Saidykhan and Ebrima Manneh were separately arrested and detained by state agents in Banjul, Gambia. Saidykhan was subjected to brutal torture, while Manneh disappeared with little trace. The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has issued judgements against the Gambia in both cases, finding the state guilty of criminally violating their rights and owing them recompense. While under former President Yaya Jammeh, the government ignored the ruling and refused payment, under the new government of President Adama Barrow, compensation has started to flow to the family of Ebrima Manneh while negotiations over settlement are underway with Musa Saidykhan.

On 28 March 2006, Musa Saidykhan, Editor-In Chief of The Independent newspaper, was arrested and detained by Gambian police. Saidykhan was taken to the State Intelligence Services (formerly known as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), along with the Newspaper's managing director Madi Ceesay and other staff members simultaneously arrested.

During his detention, Musa was subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, including the use of torture to the point of unconsciousness, which left him severely scarred on his back, legs and arms, and his right hand broken in three places. Musa was held incommunicado – his family and friends all denied access – with no formal charges ever being laid.

On 7 July 2006, plainclothes officers from the NIA arrested another journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, with the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, at his office in Banjul. It is believed that Manneh was arrested for passing “damaging” information to a BBC journalist during an African Union meeting, along with trying to republish a BBC story criticising President Yahya Jammeh's coup to power as undemocratic.

During the year following his arrest, Manneh was spotted multiple times with prison police and NIA officials as he was transferred between various police stations and detention centres. Despite these reports and overwhelming eyewitness testimony and other evidence collected by his colleagues and civil society, the government has repeatedly denied ever taking him into custody.

Both incidents occurred during a crackdown on the media following the government's announcement of a foiled coup in March 2006. The coup was used as an excuse to arrest, intimidate and harass scores of journalists and media workers in the lead-up to national elections.

In the years that followed, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) brought lawsuits against the Gambia at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice on behalf of both Saidykhan and Manneh. The Court found that The Gambia had violated Musa Saidykhan's human rights and ordered the government to pay US$200,000 in compensatory damages. In the case of Ebrima Manneh, the Gambia was ordered to release Manneh and pay his family damages of US$100,000. To date, Manneh's fate is still unknown.

Key Actors

Musa Saidykhan A respected Gambian journalist who was arbitrarily arrested and tortured by officers of the country’s National Intelligence Agency. Musa Saidykhan is currently living in exile in the United States of America, where he writes for Kairo News and advocates for respect of human rights and freedom of expression in the Gambia.

Ebrima Manneh Once a journalist for the Daily Observer. In 2006 Ebrima Manneh was detained by the NIA in plain view of colleagues and other witnesses. A decade later, Manneh’s whereabouts remain unknown and the government has repeatedly denied having him in custody.

Yahya Jammeh Former President of the Gambia. Jammeh seized power through a military coup in 1994 from then president Dawda Jawara. During his time in power, journalists, human rights activists and citizens were frequent targets of repression. There have been numerous reported incidents of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and other abuses in Jammeh’s Gambia, and many Gambians were forced into exile to escape persecution.

President Adama Barrow The newly elected President of the Gambia, Barrow assumed office on 19 January 2017. He defeated Yahya Jammeh in the 2016 election and has vowed to investigate past crimes committed against Jammeh's political opponents and critics.

National Intelligence Agency, now known as the State Intelligence Service is the secret police and intelligence gathering arm of the Gambia. Established in 1995, a year after President Yahya Jammeh seized power, the NIA reported directly to President Jammeh. It is composed of former and current members of the security services of the Gambia, who were often handpicked by Jammeh himself. The NIA was notorious for extra-judicial killings, kidnapping, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture of perceived opponents and critics of the Jammeh regime – particularly journalists, human rights defenders, religious leaders and politicians.

The Gambia Police Force is part of the Ministry of the Interior and has a force of about 5,000 uniformed and plain-clothed police officers. The GPF is commanded by the Inspector General of Police, who is assisted by a Deputy Inspector General, administrators and the regional commissioners. Despite their mandate to uphold the laws of the Gambia fairly, to protect, assist and reassure the community, and to do so with integrity, the Gambian Police Force is one of the worst perpetrators of rights violations in the country.

The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice was created as part of the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The Mandate of the Court is to ensure the observance of law and of the principles of equity in the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Revised Treaty, and all other subsidiary legal instruments adopted by ECOWAS. The Court is composed of seven independent Judges, appointed by the Heads of State of the governments of ECOWAS. The judges must be nationals of Member States and serve a four-year term of office, upon recommendation of the Community Judicial Council.

The Media Foundation for West Africa. MFWA is the largest and most influential independent media development and freedom of expression advocacy organisation in West Africa, with national partner organisations in all 16 countries of the region. The MFWA also serves as the Secretariat of the Africa Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a continent-wide network of free expression and media advocacy organisations. For over two decades the MFWA and its partners have successfully promoted freedom of expression rights, media professionalism, and media-led advocacy for peace building, and participatory governance across West Africa.

The Gambia Press Union was founded in 1979 by a group of journalists in the private media. Over the four decades of its existence the GPU has advocated for freedom of expression, the safety of journalists and access to information in the Gambia. The GPU is undertaking a comprehensive media reform project and is working with various partners, including the MFWA, to advocate for the reform of repressive laws and the passage of progressive laws such as new Right to Information Legislation.

Amnesty International - Senegal is an international non-governmental organisation that fights abuses of human rights worldwide. When Musa Saidykhan escaped to Senegal, Amnesty International’s Senegalese chapter assisted him in seeking medical care. Amnesty International also assisted him with seeking asylum in the United States of America, where he currently resides.

Femi Falanais a prominent Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist with many years of experience in Nigeria. For several years, he has been at the forefront of demands for legal reforms in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Falana was both Musa Saidykhan and Ebrima Manneh’s lawyer and guided their cases to successful rulings at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.

Timeline of Events

March 2006
Musa Saidykhan
Musa Saidykhan Arrested

On 28 March 2006, Gambian security forces arrest Musa Saidykhan and a number of his colleagues from The Independent newspaper. A few hours later, all the detainees but Saidykhan and Madi Ceesay are released. During his detention, Musa was held incommunicado and subjected to brutal torture, including beatings with sticks and electric shocks to vulnerable parts of his body.

“I was stripped naked while live-electric shocks were administered all over my body including my genitals. I was told by my torturers that electric shocks on my genitals were meant to make me impotent.” "

Musa Saidykhan

Musa Saidykhan
Musa Saidykhan Released from Detention

On 20 April, the Gambian Police release Musa Saidykhan and Madi Ceesay after 3 weeks in detention at Gambia’s NIA headquarters in Banjul. They were not charged with any crime and were granted bail to the sum of 200,000 Gambian dalasis (then equivalent of US$ 7,400).

Musa Saidykhan
Escape to Senegal

On 16 May, following constant harassment and surveillance by persons believed to be from the NIA, Musa Saidykhan and his wife escape from The Gambia to Senegal with assistance from Amnesty International.

Ebrima Manneh
The Arrest of Ebrima Manneh

On 7 July, Ebrima Manneh is arrested and detained by the NIA. No reason for the journalist’s arrest and subsequent detention at NIA Headquarters is given. Manneh is not seen or heard from for the next 6 months.

Ebrima Manneh
First sighting of Ebrima Manneh

On 12 January, after 188 days in secret detention, local media reports sightings of Manneh as he is repeatedly transferred between detention centres across the country, before finally disappearing again to an unknown location. Manneh’s family still has had no contact with him and the NIA continues to deny having him in their custody.

Ebrima Manneh
Gambia Police Force Officially Denies Having Chief Manneh in their custody

On 21 February, after 8 months in secret detention, in response to the demands of the MFWA and other human rights organisations for the release of Chief Ebrima Manneh, the Gambia Police Force officially denies having Manneh in their custody.

Ebrima Manneh
MFWA Files Case on Behalf of Chief Manneh at Community Court

The Media Foundation for West Africa files a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice to compel the Gambian authorities to release Chief Ebrima Manneh. In its application on behalf of Manneh, the MFWA seeks a declaration that the arrest of Chief Ebrima Manneh is illegal and in violation of a number of his rights as guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, including his right to personal liberty. In addition, the application seeks a court order mandating that the Gambian state immediately release Manneh from custody.

Ebrima Manneh
Gambian Government Served with Court Order

On 31 May, the Gambian government is officially served a legal summons through its High Commission in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, where the Court is sitting. However, without notification or explanation to the Court, the Gambian government fails to file a defence within the 30-day period stipulated. On 14 July, The ECOWAS Court serves the Gambian government with a hearing notice through its High Commission in Abuja on 14 July 2007.

Gambian Government Fails to Appear in Court

On 16 July 2007, the government of the Gambia fails to make an appearance at the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja, Nigeria to answer charges that they had violated the rights of Ebrima Manneh. The Court adjourns the case to 26 September 2007, to give the government a chance to make an appearance.

More Pressure on Gambian Government over “Disappeared” Chief Manneh

On 17 July, The newly formed Network of Human Rights Journalists (NHRJ), a local human rights advocacy group, organises a symposium to mark the anniversary of Manneh’s disappearance and to sustain local and international pressure on the government of President Yahya Jammeh to have him unconditionally released. The symposium, themed “Guarantee to Freedom of the Press in the Gambia,” also demands an end to impunity for attacks against journalists and media in the country. The NHRJ invites three government officials to address the forum, including the Attorney General, the Inspector General of Police of Gambia, and Saja Taal, Managing Director of the Daily Observer and close confidante of President Jammeh, who had also been accused of masterminding Manneh’s arrest. None of the three officials appear at the symposium.

Manneh Seen Again

On 26 July, Chief Ebrima Manneh is seen at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital (RVTH), the largest hospital in the Gambia, where he had been hospitalized for treatment of high blood pressure. MFWA’s sources report that Manneh was seen in the company of personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU), a paramilitary wing of the Gambian Police Force and Prison Service. The sources said Manneh, who was very weak at the time, had briefly been admitted to the hospital before being transferred to a military clinic in Banjul.

Ebrima Manneh
Court sets Date for Judgement

The ECOWAS Community Court announces that its judgment will be heard on 20 November. However, the Gambian government again fails to appear, despite being duly served with the hearing notice through the Court’s High Commission in Abuja. The Community Court of ECOWAS slates its judgment in the case of the “disappearance” of Chief Ebrima Manneh for 31 January 2008. A panel of three judges make the decision after hearing the final submission from Manneh’s lawyer, Femi Falana. On 26 November 2007, The Court heard testimonies from three witnesses, one of who testified that he witnessed the arrest of Chief Manneh by NIA personnel on the premises of the Daily Observer. Another witness testified that he saw Manneh in December 2006 at a Police Station in Fatoto, Gambia’s last eastern town, about 500 kilometres from the capital, Banjul.

MFWA Files a Suit at ECOWAS Court on Behalf of Saidykhan

On 19 November 2007, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) files a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice on behalf of Saidykhan, after his decision to flee the country the previous year. Through the suit, MFWA seeks justice for Musa and to provide a beacon of support for many other Gambian journalists who have suffered a similar fate and now live in exile.

Ebrima Manneh
Court Rules on Case of Disappearance of Chief Manneh

On 5 June, After consistently denying any knowledge of Chief Ebrima Manneh’s whereabouts, and demonstrating gross disrespect for the ECOWAS Court by refusing to cooperate throughout the proceedings, the government of President Yayah Jammeh is ordered to immediately release Chief Ebrima Manneh, who had been illegally held incommunicado for nearly two years. The court also asks the Gambian authorities to pay Manneh US$100,000 as compensation. The judgment is given in absentia, as the Gambian government continues to refuse to show up.

Ebrima Manneh
Gambian Authorities Break Silence on Ebrima Manneh

On 6 April 2009, Marie Saine Farduas, then Gambia’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, makes the first official public statement denying that the state played any part in Manneh’s disappearance. The minister was responding to questions from Gambian legislators on the government’s failure to respect the ECOWAS judgement.

“The state could only release a person from custody, if he or she is in fact in the custody of the State...I have enquired from the director general of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Inspector General of Police and the Commissioner of Prisons, and to the best of their knowledge, information and belief, Chief Manneh is not in their custody.” "

Court Objects to The Gambia’s Motion to Strike the Saidykhan Case

On 30 July, the ECOWAS Community Court rules against the Gambian Government’s attempt to dismiss Saidykhan’s case based on the government’s claims that the court had no jurisdiction and that Saidykhan had not exhausted all local remedies.

The Gambia Attempts to Restrict Access to ECOWAS Court

On 31 August Following the Saidykhan suit against the Gambia, the state sends a proposal to ECOWAS to restrict access to the Community Court by creating amendments to the treaty it was created under that would limit the court’s jurisdiction. However the proposal is widely condemned by ECOWAS member states and unanimously defeated by the ECOWAS Council of Justice Ministers.

Musa Saidykhan Torture Case Adjourned

On 15 December 2009, The ECOWAS Community Court adjourns the case until 23 February 2010 to enable the counsel of Saidykhan to reply to the submission made by the Gambian government.

Musa Saidykhan’s Torture Case Adjourned Yet Again

On 7 July, the ECOWAS Community Court again adjourns the hearing of Musa Saidykhan’s torture case to 21 September 2010 to enable the Gambian government to respond to amendments filed by Saidykhan’s counsel. His counsel had filed a motion asking the court for leave to amend their earlier brief and enable Musa to produce additional material evidence, including the clothing he had worn in detention and his medical records at the time.

Gambia loses another objection in Saidykhan torture case

On 21 October in Abuja, Nigeria, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice dismisses the objection raised by the Gambian authorities against allowing additional material evidence to be considered. This ruling meant that the court would consider in its judgment the clothing that Saidykhan wore during his torture ordeal, as well as his medical records, which he had submitted during previous testimony.

The Court finds The Gambia guilty in Saidykhan Case

On 16 December 2010, the regional court confirms that President Yahya Jammeh’s security agents had tortured Saidykhan in 2006 while he was in detention at the NIA. It also rules that Saidykhan’s arrest and subsequent detention were illegal and violated his right to personal liberty and a fair hearing as guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The ECOWAS court awards Saidykhan damages of US$200,000.

Ebrima Manneh
The Gambia files a suit at the ECOWAS Court to review cases of Musa Saidykhan and Chief Ebrima Manneh

On 31 March, the Gambian Government files a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court asking the Court to review its rulings on the Saidykhan and Manneh cases. The Gambian authorities state in their applications that they are “dissatisfied” with both judgements. According to the application, the Gambian authorities claimed there was a “miscarriage of justice since the court failed to properly appraise the evidence on record,” in the case of Musa Saidykhan. They also complained that the award of “US$200,000 to the Plaintiff (Saidykhan) is outrageous since there is no evidence on record to show the basis upon which the amount was calculated”. Issues were also raised with the fact that the compensation was determined in USD and not the Gambian Dalasi “given that the plaintiff is a citizen and at all times a resident of The Gambia.”

ECOWAS Court Orders Gambia to comply with its ruling

On 6 February, The ECOWAS Community Court orders the Gambian government to comply with it’s ruling on Musa Saidykahn, dismissing the request for review by the Gambian authorities on the grounds that there was no new evidence to justify their objection. After reviewing the case of disappeared journalist Ebrima Manneh ruled in favour of the Gambia after the state claimed per its constitution, persons can only be declared missing after 7 years. The Court however maintained that the Gambia should pay the compensation and produce Manneh when the seven years elapses.

Yahya Jammeh Defeated by Coalition in National Election
Gambians celebrate the victory of opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow against longtime President Yahya Jammeh. AP Photo/Jerome Delay.

On 1 December 2016, President Yahya Jammeh was defeated by the opposition coalition party led by Adama Barrow, despite bans on protests, security force intimidation, and a telecommunications shutdown on the day of the election.

MFWA Conducts Media-Assessment Mission under new Government

In March 2017, the MFWA conducted a media-assessment mission to the Gambia with the issue of impunity for past abuses under the Jammeh regime, including the cases of Saidykhan and Manneh, high on the agenda. During this time, President Adama Barrow indicated his commitment to press freedom and addressing crimes against journalists in the country.

MFWA Facilitates Meeting with Government and Victims' Families
Parents of Ebrima Manneh (seated) and the mediation team

In November 2017, the MFWA and GPU facilitate a meeting between the families of Manneh and Saidykhan to discuss payment of the compensation ordered by the ECOWAS Court of Justice.



Government Begins to Deliver on Reparations

In April 2018, the Gambian government pays 50% of the compensation owed to Manneh’s family. Negotiations are currently on-going with Musa Saidykhan.

What IFEX Members Are Doing

The Media Foundation for West Africa has consistently called on the Gambian government to comply with the ruling of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice through appeals and campaigns organised by MFWA with other civil society and free expression groups in West Africa. Currently, MFWA is working with relevant stakeholders to reform media laws in the Gambia and to develop strategies to address the issue of impunity in the region more broadly.

ARTICLE 19 has been active in demanding justice for Musa Saidykhan and Ebrima Manneh and conducted advocacy at the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging the government to honour the ECOWAS judgments and calling for the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the Gambia, among other measures to improve freedom of expression in the country.

Reporters Without Borders routinely highlights Manneh's case, and in 2015, submitted an application to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, urging them to open investigations into Ebrima Manneh's case. The UN Special Procedures have previously been denied access to detention facilities during their visit.

More Resources & Information

Human Rights Violations in The Gambia under President Jammeh

Africa Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) 13 November 2014

This is a compilation of human rights violations recorded in The Gambia between 2010-2013 The report lists incidents of human rights violations such as extra judicial killing, torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and arbitrary arrests and detentions. The reports give a brief narration of each incident and identify victims of the violations.

A new dawn for free expression: country profile of the Gambia

Africa 28 August 2017

After years of despotic rule, former president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, was ousted from power following a general election in December 2016. Our No Impunity profile examines the new environment for media and civil society and hopes for an end to impunity for past abuses.

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