Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
The rule of law in The Gambia under the leadership of President Adama Barrow is at risk, Amnesty International warned on Monday. Amnesty was reacting to the arrest of 137 protesters on Sunday, following some clashes with security forces.
Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Regional Director, Marta Colomer, said the crackdown on protesters “had alarming echoes of Gambia’s brutal past”.
Clashes erupted in the outskirts of Gambian capital Banjul where activists from “Three Years Jotna movement” (Three Years Enough) had planned a peaceful protest against President Adama Barrow’s decision to stay in office for five years. When he took office in 2017, Barrow pledged to step down after three.
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The protest, which was first authorized, was later banned. It turned violent when demonstrators tried to change their itinerary to get closer to the city centre according to reports. The security forces then used tear gas to disperse protesters who responded by throwing stones. At least 137 protesters were arrested.
Colomer recognized there have been some significant improvements in the country’s human rights record since President Adama Barrow came to power, “but the use of excessive force by security forces to disperse protesters risks fueling tensions and steering Gambia back to dark days of repression”.
“Last night, media quoted medical officials reporting that three people were killed, and many others injured with broken legs in clashes which broke out, with security forces using tear gas to disperse protesters. The authorities claimed that there are no fatalities. They now must promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigate the allegations and bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible.
“No one should face arrest simply for exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their right to peaceful protest. We also call on them to reopen the radio stations which they closed and release the journalists detained. Any attack on media freedom should end.
“President Adama Barrow must not forget his significant promises to improve the Gambia’s human rights situation. He must ensure that journalists are able to carry out their work without fear of reprisal and immediately lift the ban imposed on civil society organizations.”
A statement issued late Sunday by a government spokesperson confirmed the arrest of 137 protesters including the leader of the ‘’Three Years Jotna movement’’.
Authorities also banned the “Three Years Jotna movement”, which they say is not legally registered.
They also announced the suspension of two radio FM stations – Brikama-based Home Digital FM and Tallinding Kunjang-based King FM radio stations – pending the outcome of police investigations into alleged license violations.
The Government claimed the “two FM stations have demonstrated notoriety for peddling incendiary messages and allowing their media to be used as platforms for inciting violence, fear-mongering and live broadcasts urging Gambians to join Jotna demonstrators all calculated to threaten the security and safety of The Gambia.”
Amnesty said during a meeting with President Adama Barrow in the capital Banjul in May 2019, its delegates noted the major progress made in the two years since his inauguration but drew attention to serious human rights violations in Gambia which still need to be addressed urgently.
On 25 January 2020, hundreds of Gambians protested calling for justice over human rights violations and abuses, including forced disappearances, rape, and murder, which occurred during former President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule.
This followed another gathering from Jammeh’s supporters who, on 16 January, protested for his right to return from exile.
But now, things seem to be changing.