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Gambian journalists charged after requesting to protest executions

UPDATE: Gambian journalists charged with seditious intention, incitement to violence and conspiracy to commit a felony (IPI, 21 September 2012)

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 11 September 2012 - ARTICLE 19 calls on the Gambian police to immediately release and drop all charges brought against two journalists that were detained while trying to apply for necessary permission to protest against recent executions.

"Arresting and charging journalists that are seeking permission from the police to organise a peaceful demonstration is unlawful, arbitrary and a negation of the very essence of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. We urge the Gambian authorities to immediately drop the charges against the two journalists," said Fatou Jagne Senghor, ARTICLE 19's Regional Representative for West Africa.

The right to peaceful protest is recognised under Section 25 of the Gambian Constitution as well as international human rights treaties ratified by The Gambia. Furthermore, it is absurd to qualify a request for clearance from the police for a peaceful demonstration as an offence.

Baboucarr Ceesay, first Vice President of the Gambia Press Union and a journalist with The Daily News, and Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelance journalist, were arrested and detained on 7 September 2012 at the Banjul police headquarters. The two journalists had been invited to the police station in relation to their application for permission to hold a peaceful protest against the recent mass-executions of death-row inmates. On 8 September they were seen to be taken in handcuffs by the police to search their respective houses and then taken back to the police headquarters in Banjul.

The two journalists were kept in police custody until 10 September and then charged with "conspiracy to commit felony" after the initial charges of "incitement to violence" where dropped. They were each subsequently granted bail to the sum of 250,000 dalasi (USD 8,135).

Ceesay and Saidykhan were also asked to report to the police on 17 September.

The Gambian human rights record has worsened over the past two decades. The situation escalated in late August, when President Yahya Jammeh ordered the execution of death-row inmates. It is believed that 38 other inmates are under imminent threat of undergoing the same brutal fate.

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