THE trial and imprisonment of six Gambian journalists last week has
continued to elicit international condemnation, with the European Union
expressing anxiety over press freedom in the tiny Western African
nation, according to a report from the Catholic Information Service for Africa.

The EU said in a statement that it had been closely following the trial of the journalists accused of seditious and defamatory publications and had noted the verdict and sentences passed down on the journalists.

"The EU is concerned by the heavy sentences handed down and the negative impact of these prosecutions on freedom of expression in The Gambia. The EU reiterates the views expressed in the local EU Presidency statement that was presented to the Gambian authorities on 26 June 2009.

The right to freedom of expression is fundamental to democracy and a fundamental freedom laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, to which The Gambia is a State Party."

The EU urged Gambia "to take these concerns into consideration and to act in conformity with its international human rights and treaty obligations in considering any appeals."

Six Gambian journalists, including three executive members of the Gambian Press Union, got a mandatory sentence of two years' imprisonment and were fined US$10,000 on two of the six counts. Failure to pay the fines will result in having to serve two extra years for each count.

The journalists were convicted on six counts of sedition and defamation. The six are: Emil Touray, Secretary General of the Gambian Press Union (GPU); Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Vice President of the GPU, Pa Modou Faal, Treasurer of the GPU; Pap Saine and Ebou Sawaneh, publisher and editor of Point newspaper; and Sam Sarr, editor of Foroyaa newspaper.

The international human rights organization Amnesty international described the journalists as "prisoners of conscience, who are being punished for peacefully expressing their views."