The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), joins the world today August 30, to remember victims of enforced disappearances.
Today, (30 August 2017) the MFWA remembers in particular the disappeared Gambian journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh.
Chief Manneh, a journalist with the then pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, was arrested on July 7, 2006, by officers from The Gambia’s former National Intelligence Agency (NIA), at his office in Banjul.
He was arrested both for passing “damaging” information to a BBC journalist during an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa and for trying to republish a BBC story criticising former President Yahya Jammeh’s coup to power. During the year following his arrest, Chief Manneh was spotted multiple times within various prisons and detention centres, as he was transferred many times. He was also seen with paramilitary officers at a hospital after being reportedly treated for blood pressure.
To date, the former government has denied having arrested and taken Manneh into custody and the journalist is still yet to be found.
The United Nations has emphasised that “enforced disappearance has frequently been used as a strategy to spread terror within society. The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but it also affects their communities and society as a whole.” Indeed after Chief Manneh’s disappearance, many journalists in The Gambia increasingly feared for their lives.
In 2007, the MFWA filed a civil suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, to seek justice for Chief Manneh and his family. Not only did the former government of The Gambia failed to make an appearance in Court, but it tried to kidnap one of the witnesses against the state. On March 10 2008, YahyaDampha, a Gambian journalist who was a witness in the Manneh case and who had been persecuted into fleeing to neighbouring Senegal, escaped a kidnap attempt by three suspected NIA agents. At that time, Dampha told MFWA that he sought the help of his neighbours upon recognition of one Habib Drammeh, a known NIA operative attached to former Gambian President YahyaJammeh’s office. Upon his neighbours’ intervention, the would-be abductors fled. Dampha also told MFWA that prior to the attempt, he had received a number of threatening phone calls.
A few months later on June 5, 2008, the ECOWAS Court found The Gambia guilty of the disappearance of Chief Manneh and ordered the government to release the journalist and pay him US$100,000 in damages.
Nine years on, Chief Manneh’s whereabouts remain unknown and the former Gambian government has failed to pay any compensation, in violation of its obligations under the Revised ECOWAS Treaty. The MFWA continues to appeal to ECOWAS to ensure that The Gambia complies with the ruling of the ECOWAS Court in accordance with its obligations as a member of ECOWAS. We also call on ECOWAS and all states in West Africa to prioritize the issue of the safety of journalists, by investigating, prosecuting and remedying cases of enforced disappearances. Finally, we urge all states in West Africa to respect, protect and fulfil people’s rights to freedom of expression, including press freedom and to cease the persecution of individuals for exercising this right.