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ECOWAS Court Awards N30m To Detained Journalist

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ABUJA, Dec 16, (THEWILL) - The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has declared the arrest and detention of MUSA SAIDYKHAN, a Gambian journalist, illegal and unconstitutional “as it contravenes the Plaintiff’s human right to personal liberty as guaranteed by Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.”

The Court also awarded the Plaintiff $200,000 as damages for the violations of his human rights by the Gambian authorities. The judgment of the Court followed a suit filed by Mr. Femi Falana on behalf of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) before the Court. Reacting to the judgment, Mr. Falana, counsel to the Plaintiff said that, “Since the commencement of the case, victims of human rights violations in the Gambia have frequently approached the ECOWAS Court for remedy. “I commend the court for its human rights standards setting in West Africa. With the intervention of the Court, journalists and other persons are no longer detained without trial in the Gambia. In Niger, slavery has also been a thing of the past since the Court declared it illegal in the case of Hadijatou Mani Koraou v The Republic of Niger. “Just as the government of Niger paid 16m CFA damages awarded to Hadijatou, we hope the Gambian government will honour the pledge made by its lawyer, Martin Okoi, in open court that the judgment will be fully obeyed. We also commend the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) for helping Gambian journalists to challenge the culture of impunity of the Gambian government,” Falana said. According to the court papers, the Plaintiff is a journalist and a former editor of The Independent Newspaper based in Banjul, The Gambia. Following the alleged coup of March 21, 2006 in The Gambia, The Independent newspaper published the names of the soldiers and civilians arrested by security forces in connection with the incident. The Plaintiff was arrested late at night on March 27, 2006 by a combined team of armed soldiers and policemen without a warrant of arrest and taken to the detention centre in the Headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency in Banjul, The Gambia. The Plaintiff was held incommunicado for 22 days without any access to his lawyers and family members. It was also contended before the Court that, “The Plaintiff was not allowed to take a bath, put on shoes or change his clothes for three weeks. He was stripped naked while electric shocks were administered on his body including his genitals. In order to extract a confessional statement implicating the Plaintiff in the alleged coup he was threatened that he would be buried alive in a graveyard dug beside the detention centre where he was kept.” The Plaintiff also said that he “was tortured by officials of the Presidential Body Guards including Lieutenant Musa Jammeh, a cousin of President Yaya Jammeh and Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Tamba. As a result of the physical, mental and psychological torture inflicted on me, I left with scars on my back, legs, arms and a bayonet cut on my left jaw.” It was also stated in court that, “In the course of his investigation the plaintiff was accused of disloyalty to the Yaya Jammeh regime for inviting President Tambo Mbeki of South Africa to pressurize the government to expedite investigation into the brutal killing of a newspaper editor, Deyda Hydara and attacks on newspaper houses. The Plaintiff was also accused of embarrassing The Gambian government by writing stories on the mysterious killings of over 40 Ghanaians, Nigerians, Togolese and Senegalese by the Gambian security forces in 2005.” The ECOWAS Court granted the following reliefs: “A declaration that the arrest of the plaintiff in Banjul, The Gambia on March 27, 2006 by the armed agents of the defendant is illegal and unconstitutional as it contravenes the Plaintiff’s human right to personal liberty as guaranteed by Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights “A declaration that the detention of the Plaintiff by the defendant’s agents at the National intelligence Agency detention centre at Banjul, The Gambia for 22 days without trial is illegal as it violates the plaintiff’s right to personal liberty and fair hearing as guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the African charter on Human and peoples Rights. “A declaration that the torture inflicted on the plaintiff by the defendant’s agents during his 22 days detention at the headquarters of the National intelligence Agency in Banjul, The Gambia is illegal as it violates the plaintiff’s right to personal dignity as guaranteed by Article 5 of the African charter on Human and peoples Rights.”