“No Case To Answer” for Gambian Journalists
The Banjul Magistrates Court acquitted and discharged Sainey Mk Marenah, a freelance journalist, and Musa S. Sheriff, editor-in-chief of The Voice newspaper of charges of conspiracy to commit a felony and publication of false news. The defendants had pleaded not guilty to both charges and could have faced sentences of up to two years for each separate charge, in addition to a fine, if found guilty.
The charges were in relation to an article published in The Voice, a privately owned Gambian newspaper, on 9 December 2013. The article concerned the defection of 19 youth supporters of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction to the opposition United Democracy Party. A rejoinder was written and published shortly after the APRC contested the story.
With financial support of the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the defence made a “no case to answer” submission at the close of the prosecution case. Gambian law allows defendants to argue that the prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against the accused persons. A ruling for “no case to answer” allows the case to end immediately.
Magistrate Jacqueline Nixon Hakim held that, although it was indisputable that a publication was made, the evidence presented was “neither direct or circumstantial” in showing the publication was false or that there had been a conspiracy between the journalists. Concluding that the prosecution had failed to prove its case, the prosecution of Marenah and Sheriff could not continue.