“Words can’t express how I feel, but I am happy,” Mr Marenah, 28, told The Standard, shortly after the ruling. “I am walking home a free man. I thank my lawyer, my colleagues and my family for standing by me.”
His colleague, Musa Sherif, editor of Voice newspaper, expressed similar sentiments.
“I feel joy. I am not surprised because I have had a feeling we did not do anything wrong. We were doing our job as journalists. We stand for press freedom and our motto is, ‘publish for all, in the interest of all’.”
Messrs Marenah and Sheriff were charged with two counts: conspiracy to commit misdemeanour and publication of false news when they reported in January the defection of 19 Green Youth supporters of the ruling party to the main opposition UDP. The prosecution said the journalists knew that the said news report was false and could disturb the public peace.
However, both Marenah and Sheriff maintained their not-guilty plea throughout the trial.
Yesterday’s ruling was prompted by a no-case submission filed in October by the defence lawyer, Lamin Camara, in which he argued that the state had failed to make out a case against the journalists in spite of the testimonies of eight state witnesses.
In her ruling before a half-full courtroom, Magistrate Jackline Nixon Hakim weighed in favour of the defence.
She said the prosecution had failed to establish the essential elements of the offence to make sufficient ground for proceeding.
She said: “I disagree with the prosecution that the provision [of Section 181(a) of the Criminal Code] is a strict liability offence and I believe that was not the intendment of the legislature.
“It is not in dispute that there was a publication. However, the evidence adduced before the court with regard to both counts were neither direct nor circumstantial showing that the publication was false and that the accused persons conspired amongst themselves to publish…
“I am of the view that the prosecution has failed to prove a prima facie case against the accused persons. As such, I shall hereby acquit and discharge the accused persons on all the two counts.”
Reacting to the ruling, Lawyer Lamin Mboge, who held brief for Lawyer Camara, said the decision would enhance the country’s image on press freedom.
He said: “It’s a victory not only for journalists, but for democracy, freedom of expression and a victory for the guarantee of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
It was the first time in more than a decade that a journalist was acquitted and discharged by a Gambian court of law and Lawyer Mboge gave credit to what he called the new breed of adjudicating officers.
“The most important consideration is the new breed of judges and magistrates who have the courage, wisdom and knowledge to deliver justice without fear or ill will or other considerations. The judges who were here, we have seen all kinds of decisions.”
“The case is finished. That’s all,” a prosecuting police officer told me, declining to comment on the matter.
While Marenah said he would move on from here to become a better journalist [now at The Standard], Musa Sherif is left with a job of picking up the pieces of his newspaper.
He said: “My paper was publishing three times a week. Now, people even think we are joking. And the advertisers have turned their back on us.”
Meanwhile, Halima Ceesay, 23, of The Point newspaper is a young reporter seeking to carve to niche in the profession. What does the ruling meant to her? She said: “I did not expect an acquittal for the fact that if a journalist is on trial, the state sees you as a political enemy. In such cases, when they’re in conflict with the law, the state tends to take it very seriously.
“But the decision of the court would encourage me to go on with journalism. I see journalism as a noble profession. It also tells me that if you gather all your facts, you do the right thing, you should not fear anything. And no matter what the circumstance is, we should always be there to serve the public interest.”]]>