News24

Missing Gambia journalist 'in the US'

2012-05-22 19:17

Banjul - Gambia's police chief said on Tuesday a journalist who went missing in 2006 after being arrested by the state spy agency, is in the US.

Ebrima Manneh's disappearance prompted stiff rebukes against a government regularly criticised by rights groups for cracking down on the media, and strong suspicion of authorities' involvement.

"As far as we are concerned, the latest information we received from Interpol is that he was seen in America and that is it," police chief Yankuba Sonko said, confirming earlier reports in privately-owned The Standard newspaper.

"Interpol said he was seen in America and he entered there; the information is reliable," Sonko added.

The comments come barely seven months after former justice minister Edward Gomez told local media that Manneh is "alive and we will talk about his case later".

At the time of his disappearance, Manneh worked for the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper and sources at the paper said he was working on a story critical of the government.

Manneh went missing on 7 July 2006 after his arrest by the National Intelligence Agency.

Whereabouts unknown

In July 2008 the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) ordered the Gambian government to free Manneh, but the government remained mum on his whereabouts, later denying he had ever been detained.

Manneh's relatives, who could not immediately be reached for comment, have long maintained that the missing journalist is dead; a prospect alluded to by President Yahya Jammeh in March 2011.

"Let me make it very clear that the government has nothing to do with the death and disappearance of Chief Manneh," Jammeh said at the time.

A 2010 Amnesty International report stated that a government crackdown on press freedom had seen about 29 journalists flee Gambia since 1994, more than half in the previous two years.

Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994, said in November last year that journalists are "free to write what you like, but you should be ready to be accountable.

"Somebody said that this country is a hell for journalists - well, there are freedoms and there are responsibilities. Being a journalist does not mean license to kill.

Character assassination will not be accepted."