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Gambian lawyer sees local AP reporter in detention

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A Gambian journalist who contributes to The Associated Press is in good condition although he has been held in detention by Gambia's internal security service for more than 48 hours, said his lawyer.

Lamin Camara said Wednesday that he saw journalist Abdoulie John at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency in the West African country's capital, Banjul. He said that John, a Gambian, has not been mistreated.

John is being investigated by the NIA, said the lawyer. According to Gambia's constitution, the security agency can hold John for 72 hours and after that he must be released or charged in court, Camara said.

Camara also brought John's laptop computer to the NIA, where agents searched its contents and didn't find anything incriminating, according to members of the Gambian Press Union.

John has been held at the NIA offices since Monday afternoon. Security officials took John to his home on Monday and searched it.

John, the editor of the website JollofNews as well as a contributor to AP, was previously held overnight by Gambian security officials on Dec. 9 after he covered the release of Senegalese soldiers by a rebel group. AP had been invited to the event and assigned John to cover it. John has said the Gambian president's photographer questioned his presence and an argument ensued. Since that incident John has been questioned several times by the intelligence agency but he has not been charged with any crime.

AP has protested his detention and urged his release.

"We are deeply troubled by the arrest of Abdoulie John and are concerned about his well-being in the custody of Gambia's National Intelligence Agency, which has a documented record of disappearing and torturing journalists," said Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We hold the Gambia responsible for John's well-being and call for his immediate release and the end of this pattern of harassment against this journalist."

The International Federation of Journalists has "vigorously condemned the harassment" of John and has called on the Gambian government to stop trying to intimidate him.

Gambia is one of Africa's smallest and poorest countries with a population of about 1.8 million people. President Yahya Jammeh has ruled the country since he came to power in a coup in 1994. Human rights groups have accused the government of Gambia of carrying out arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture in recent years.