The Gambia: Activists mark 20 years of iron fisted repression
The Gambian government must abolish the laws and iron fisted practices that have resulted in two decades of widespread human rights violations, Amnesty International said as it joined forces with other human rights groups for a global day of action marking 20 years since President Jammeh’s seizure of power. Activists across the world will hold protests and public events today to raise awareness about the dire human rights situation in The Gambia, where many live in fear of arbitrary arrest, torture and enforced disappearance. In The Gambia, the anniversary is historically celebrated by the authorities as “Freedom Day”. “Today marks 20 years of the rule of fear in The Gambia, where the list of victims of human rights violations grows ever longer,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “The Gambian authorities must investigate complaints made by victims of human rights violations and bring the perpetrators to justice. They should also repeal the laws which make this repression possible.” Journalists, human rights defenders, political activists and other Gambians are frequently targeted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression.
A series of laws adopted since President Jammeh came to power in 1994 makes it possible for these violations to take place with almost total impunity and discourages victims from seeking redress.
In 2001, for example, the Indemnity (amendment) Act gave the President power to prevent security forces being prosecuted for any act committed during a state of emergency situation or as part of a process to quell an unlawful assembly.
More recently, in July 2013, the Gambian government passed the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act, through which journalists, bloggers and internet users can receive jail sentences of up to 15 years and fines of up to $75,000 for ‘spreading false news’.
“President Jammeh’s government must amend these and other laws used to restrict freedom of expression,” said Stephen Cockburn. “The authorities must also release all those detained unlawfully unless they are charged with recognizable criminal offences and subjected to fair trials. They must also release all prisoners of conscience.”
The NGOs taking part in the Day of Action alongside Amnesty International include Article 19 West Africa and RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’homme).
The day of action takes place ahead of a United Nations review of The Gambia’s human rights record in October 2014.