BANJUL (AFP) — Gambian journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, who has been missing for nearly three years, is no longer alive, a senior police source at Gambia's notorious Mile Two prison told AFP Monday.
The police source, who would not give his name saying he would be arrested or killed if he was identified, said he last saw Manneh at the prison sometime last year when he was taken away by a plain clothed officer in the middle of the night.
"That was the last day I set my eyes on him and to the best of my knowledge, Chief Manneh is not alive", he told AFP.
Manneh, who worked for the pro-government newspaper the Daily Observer, disappeared in July 2006 after being picked up in the newspaper building by men who said they were with the Gambian intelligence service NIA.
Sources at the newspaper say Manneh was targetted because he was working on an article which criticized the Gambian government for a foreign news organisation.
The Gambian authorities have always denied they were holding Manneh in custody.
Last week in a first public reaction to an Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) court ruling in June last year ordering Banjul to release Manneh, Attorney-General and Justice Minister Marie Saine Firdaus said she had no knowledge of the journalist's whereabouts.
"It is rather unfortunate and disappointing to hear the Attorney General and Minister publicly saying that Chief Manneh is not in the custody of the State," the police source told AFP.
"Chief Manneh was sometime last year seen at Mile Two central prison under the escort of a plain clothed officer who whisked him away at around 2 am," he added, saying that the situation had gotten out of control.
After the case was taken to a regional court by a west African media watchdog, ECOWAS ruled that Gambia had illegally arrested and detained Manneh, and ordered his release. The Attorney-General announced last week that Banjul would appeal the ruling.
Manneh's ageing mother told AFP by phone that she has no hope her son will return alive.
"Nothing can convince me that my breadwinner son is still alive," she said.
"We leave everything in the hands of God and I hope one day (...) the truth shall prevail."
Gambia, a former British colony, surrounded by Senegal on three sides, is often criticized for its poor human rights record and heavy-handed restrictions on the media.
Human rights organisations estimate that some 40 Gambians are being held at various detention centres without trial, years after being taken into custody. Journalists are routinely harassed and many independent reporters have faced court cases for sedition or giving false information.
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