US lawmakers warn Gambia
Washington - Powerful US lawmakers have warned Gambia about its "harassment" of media and in particular the fate of missing journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, tying possible future US aid to his release.
The Senate Appropriations Committee took the unusual step of naming Manneh in an annual spending bill for the US State Department and foreign aid.
"The committee notes with concern the harassment of journalists and deterioration of press freedom in The Gambia, particularly the 3-year incommunicado detention of Mr Ebrima Manneh, a reporter for the Gambian newspaper The Daily Observer," the legislation says.
"Reversal of this trend, and the release of Mr Manneh, will be considered by the Committee in assessing continued United States assistance for The Gambia," it said.
The legislative language was brought to AFP's attention by a Washington-based lawyer with the non-profit advocacy group Freedom Now, which represents prisoners of conscience, including the missing journalist.
Manneh, who worked for the pro-government newspaper the Daily Observer, disappeared in July 2006 after being picked up in the newspaper building by men who said they were with the Gambian intelligence service, NIA.
Sources at the newspaper say Manneh was targetted because he was working on an article for a foreign news organization which criticized the Gambian government.
The government in Banjul said in April it does not know where he is.
Gambia, a former British colony, surrounded by Senegal on three sides, is often criticized for its poor human rights record and heavy-handed restrictions on the media.
Human rights organisations estimate that some 40 Gambians are being held at various detention centers without trial, years after being taken into custody.
Journalists are routinely harassed and many independent reporters have faced court cases for sedition or giving false information, according to an Amnesty International report published last year.
According to the official US State Department web site, Gambia received a relatively paltry 88,000 dollars in US economic aid in fiscal year 2007 to fund grassroots projects and human rights programs.