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Journalist's "false information" trial to be re-initiated under new magistrate

(MFWA/IFEX) - The trial of Lamin Fatty, a reporter with the banned Banjul-based bi-weekly "The Independent", who is being tried for publishing "false information", is to start anew, following the appointment of the trial magistrate, Kebba Sanyang, as Gambia's Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice.

Sanyang's appointment was announced on 13 November 2006. At a 20 November hearing, the court clerk selected 4 December as the new hearing date, a date by which a magistrate is expected to be appointed.

MFWA sources say Fatty's lawyer, Lamin Camara, has expressed worry over this decision. Camara has consistently argued that the case has dragged on for too long. During the last hearing, he lamented the delay in the case caused by the prosecution. He therefore applied for the case to be struck down and his client discharged. The magistrate overruled the application on the grounds that the prosecution could still be given time.

The case has been adjourned five times. On occasion, the magistrate adjourned the trial to attend private social events of friends. The case started in June, with two prosecution witnesses having testified so far. It was last adjourned on 7 November, due to the absence of the police prosecutor, Momodou Mballow.

Fatty is charged under section 181 of the Criminal Code, which, in its amended form, makes the publication of "false information" a criminal and punishable offence. He faces a minimum of six months in jail, without the option of a fine, if convicted.

The 24 March edition of "The Independent" erroneously reported Samba Bah, a former minister of the interior and former head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), as among those arrested in the aftermath of an alleged coup. The newspaper subsequently published Bah's notice of correction and also apologized to him.

The police soon after raided the offices of "The Independent" and arrested all staff members, including Madi Ceesay and Musa Saidykhan, general manager and editor, respectively. They have since been released without charge.

Fatty was arrested by the Gambian police on 10 April and illegally detained for 63 days.

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