Justice E O Dada of the High Court in Banjul yesterday convicted and sentenced Alhagie Ceesay, the former Managing Director of Teranga FM radio to a mandatory jail term of 4 years in absentia. The judge also ordered him to pay a fine of D200, 000 in default to serve 2 years imprisonment.
This came after the court found him guilty of six counts of sedition and a count of publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public.
Ceesay was charged by prosecutors with intent to excite disaffection against His Excellency the President, Sheikh Professor Dr. Alhagie Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh and the Government of the Republic of The Gambia when he acted with the same seditious intention by Publishing and Distributing pictures of a gun and five bullets, pointing towards the image of the President of the Republic of The Gambia on or about 17th July, 2015, at Sinchu Alagie Village and other diverse places.
He was also found guilty of acting on the same seditious intention by publishing and distributing a seditious phrases.
Justice Dada in her judgment recalled that the prosecution had called 4 witnesses to lead evidence in the case and that at the end of the prosecution’s case, the defence maintained that the second prosecution witness Fatou Drammeh was not completely cross-examined so her evidence should be expunged.
She said this was objected to by the Director of Public Prosecution who stated that such circumstance should not warrant expunction of the evidence, as PW2 was partly cross-examined.
She said Ceesay’s defence lawyer made a no-case submission, which was overruled and he (Ceesay) was called to open his defence but he opted to remain silent.
She said while the case was ongoing, Ceesay absconded from prison custody while under medication at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital but he was continued to be tried in absentia.
According to the judge, the evidence of PW2, who was not completely cross-examined by the defence cannot be totally unreliable by the court, so she shall rely on it to the extent of the message that was sent to her by Ceesay which he (Ceesay) admitted in his cautionary statement.
After the judge evaluated the evidence and submissions made by both parties, she said the seditious message sent by Ceesay is capable of inciting fear and lawlessness in the country, considering the fact that there was an attack on the State House just six months before. As a result, she said anyone who receive such message will be in a state of fear.
On the issue of whether a message sent through “WhatsApp” can amount to publication of false news, Justice Dada said she hold firmly that any message that is sent through WWW. amounts to publication.
After the arraignment of journalist Ceesay, his lawyer C. Gaye raised an objection on the bill of indictment, saying the charges are duplicitous.
Addressing that issue in her judgment, the judge stated that count 1 and 2 of sedition constitutes 1 count, and the other counts on sedition also constitutes another making it 3 counts of which she fines him (Ceesay) guilty as charged.
In her plea in mitigation, lawyer C. Gaye said that her client is a first time offender, he is a young man of only 26 years and at the time of his arrest he was gainfully employed as the managing director of Teranga FM radio.
Lawyer further mitigated that her client has learnt a lesson and will be conscious on how to responsibly use social media. So she urged the court not to impose a custodial sentence but a fine.
The judge in his sentenced Ceesay on count 1 and 2 to a mandatory jail term of 1 year and a fine of D100, 000, while on count 3, 4, 5 and 6 he was sentenced to 1 year imprisonment and a fine of D100, 000 and in default of paying the fines he shall serve an additional 2 years imprisonment. On count 7 Ceesay was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment.
The court also ordered that this sentence shall take effect any date the convict is apprehended and further ordered the police to effect arrest on the convict on sight as he is a fugitive.
by Fatou Sowe