By Talibeh Hydara
A former colleague of Ebrima ‘Chief’ Manneh, has told The Standard that he was picked up because he intended to reproduce on the Observer an article from BBC that was critical of the Jammeh government.
According to Pa Ousman Darboe, a former staffer of the Daily Observer, the article was about the democratisation process that was supposed to be discussed during a meeting by foreign affairs ministers and West African leaders.
“Chief Ebrima Manneh downloaded this article which talks about Jammeh, who was the host of this meeting, coming to power through a coup. This article was printed in the Observer but it was never made public because we knew the story would not go down well with the then managing director, Dr Saja Taal. We took this printed copy and kept it in the store so nobody would access it. One day, I was here [former Observer now Standard offices] when Dr Taal confronted me, saying he was fired three times by Jammeh and he wouldn’t allow to be fired a fourth time. He showed me the printed copy of that story we kept in the store and said Pa Malick Faye (reporter later promoted managing director) told him Chief Manneh downloaded the article. He said Jammeh is the owner of the Observer and that the paper should only promote the Jammeh government,” Darboe narrated.
Darboe continued: “Saja called Lamin Saine [later National Assembly Member], who was one of the directors at NIA and we were sitting here on July 7, when two plainclothes officers came. One was Corporal Sey who used to work at the Major Crimes Unit at the police headquarters. I asked him what they wanted and he told me they came for Chief Manneh. I asked for what, they said for questioning at Bakau Police Station. We advised Chief to go with somebody but he said he would be fine because he also knows Sey. We told him to keep his phone on because we would be calling to check on him but the moment he reached Bakau Police Station, his phone went off. We tried calling him the whole day but we couldn’t reach him. His bag was even here. We then went straight to the Bakau Police Station but they told us Chief was taken to the NIA in Banjul. We tried to talk to the NIA but they refused to give us any clear information about his whereabouts. They denied he was with them because that was the routine then. When they arrested journalists, they would always say they didn’t. We then returned and wrote an article about his arrest but Saja Taal refused to publish it so we sent it to Foroyaa and The Point.
“Three months later, a senior officer, who is still in service [name withheld], informed me that Chief was at Sibanor Police Station. The OC at the station admitted that Chief was there for three days but was transferred.”
The search continued and according to Darboe, Chief’s family had visited the offices of Daily Observer at least twice about their loved one but his disappearance remained a mystery. The family even sought audience with the then vice president but to no avail.
“It was after seven months, when Yaya Dampha, a Foroyaa reporter, was on a tour with the Amnesty International staff when they spotted Chief in Fatoto. They asked about him but the police denied he was there. They told the police that indeed they saw him and insisted on accessing him but they were arrested and detained for three days,” Darboe said.
When Chief’s protracted disappearance began showing signs of his death, journalists in the country and elsewhere, having already seen Deyda Hydara gunned down a few years before, renewed their campaign against his detention with legal action.
“The Media Foundation for West Africa sued the Gambia government at the Ecowas court in Nigeria. The Jammeh government was served but the case dragged on until in 2007 when I received a call from a friend in Dakar that Media Foundation wanted me to testify because I was the only witness who was ready to speak,” he said.
At the sub-regional court, the Jammeh government didn’t even send a representative, and it was found guilty for his disappearance and fined hundred thousand dollars to be paid to Chief Manneh’s family. The money was never paid and Chief Manneh or his remains are yet to be found.
Read the full interview in Bantaba next Friday.