Ousainou J. Sawaneh
A consortium of civil society organizations petitioned Gambia Government through the Inspector General of Police to drop all charges against 15 young protesters arrested in connection to ‘3 years Jotna’ protest.
The protesters were arrested at Senegambia area 10th May, 2019 as they walked to the Kairaba Hotel where coalition stakeholders were having a meeting.
Below is the petitioned addressed to the IGP over the arrest and Criminal charge of 15 citizens.
Petition over the Arrest and Criminal Charge of 15 Citizens for Unlawful Assembly
It is with grave concern that we, members of ‘The Gambia We Want’ Civil Society Consortium, petition you about the matter involving 15 citizens who were arrested on 10th May 2019 as they assembled along the Bertil Harding Highway opposite the Senegambia main junction. We have information that on this fateful day the group, calling itself ‘3 Years Jotna’ were waiting for each other in order to proceed to the Kairaba Beach Hotel where a meeting of Coalition leaders was taking place so that they could manifest their position in respect of the tenure of the Coalition Government. As they waited, all of a sudden officers from the TDA police station nearby approached the group by inviting them to the station where they pleaded with them to disperse since they did not possess a permit. As the group members decided to go home in compliance with the appeal they were immediately called back only to be subjected to arrest where officers claimed the instruction came from ‘the top’.
Our fact finding revealed that within a short space of time the IGP himself as well as some other senior police also descended on the station as these would-be protesters were being transported to Kairaba Police Station. We have also learned that in fact the group had written to your office on May 8 seeking a permit to stage a protest on May 10, but this was rejected on the pretext that the request should have come at least 72 hours before the planned date of protest.
Since their arrest and transportation to Kairaba Police Station on May 10, members of the group were charged with unlawful assembly, conspiracy to commit felony and prohibition of conduct conducive to a breach of peace. They have been since subjected to various interrogation sessions by both the police and intelligence officers. They were being asked questions as to why they joined the group, who are the backers and funders of the group and even going further to search the phones of these people. While they had obtained bail and asked to report daily to the station to which they comply however they were made to spend almost the whole day anytime they report to the station and to be subjected to further interrogation. Some of the members are suckling mothers who had to leave their toddlers at home only to spend considerable time unable to care for their babies. Other people were unable to go to work simply because they were kept waiting at the police station the whole time. While these conditions have put them in severe inconvenience one wonders what was the rationale for such treatment in the first place.
Upon consideration of the facts and the circumstances, we wish to therefore write to express deep concern and discomfort that two years after the end of Dictatorship in the Gambia, our citizens could continue to be subjected to such harassment and mistreatment from our own primary law enforcement agency. We are particularly worried that even when members of this group frantically narrated their story to your officers still the police could not provide the necessary supportive and responsible leadership to them. What is even more disturbing is the fact that members of this group had agreed with the appeal of your officers to disperse yet they could be so mistreated as if they were vagabonds from distant lands hellbent on destroying the Gambia. Indeed, we did not see any iota of leadership and professionalism from the police in the way and manner these citizens were handled.
From the facts we have gathered it is clear that these people had no public address system with them, nor did they embark on a procession. In fact, they were merely waiting for their members with the plan to display messages written on A4-size xerox papers inside the hotel where the Coalition leaders were meeting. Therefore, it is evident that these citizens did not violate the Public Order Act or any other law in the Gambia. Why therefore subject them to arrest and severe mistreatment?
We hold the view that the Gambia Police Force is a foremost national human rights protection institution as mandated by the Constitution in Section 17. Furthermore, the Gambia Police Force is a public institution that derives its legitimacy and authority from the citizens of the Gambia whom it must serve with efficiency and professionalism in line with the values of transparency, accountability and responsiveness as stipulated in Section 1 subsection 2 of our Constitution. Hence police officers must be seen at all times to uphold the sovereign rights of citizens and abide by the rule of law when engaging citizens. For that matter we are highly perturbed and concerned that such malpractices as meted out to these citizens could come from none other than the Gambia Police Force.
In light of the foregoing, we wish to therefore call on your good office to:
1. Drop all charges against the fifteen persons charged forthwith;
2. Refrain from unduly interfering with the lawful exercise of citizens fundamental rights particularly of their right to assembly and speech;
3. Refrain from any acts in future that seek to violate the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens, undermine the rule of law and abrogate the Constitution;
At this stage of our history and experience we wish that indeed the Gambia Police Force would have done away with malpractices that injure the rights and dignity of Gambians. The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of assembly and association hence no Gambian must be subjected to any form of harassment for merely joining an association and converging at a particular place without the use of arms or violence. We had expected that police officers would have provided security for these citizens so that they can enjoy the rights stipulated in Section 25 of the Constitution as well as ensure that non-members or non-participants in their endeavour also enjoy their freedom of movement and other rights.
In conclusion we wish to receive a response to this letter as we monitor this case closely. Rest assured that we are determined to hold all public institutions and security agencies accountable in order to ensure true democracy and good governance in the Gambia. In that regard we will utilise all means and resources at our disposal and in line with the law to defend human rights, ensure public and security institutions and officers adhere to the rule of law and uphold the Constitution.
While counting on your cooperation we wish to assure you that we are a group of responsible citizens who are determined to fulfil our duties as required of all citizens in Section 220. In like manner we also expect and demand that police officers fulfil the duties of a public officer as set out in Section 222, particularly subsections 1, 2, 3 and 13 of the Constitution.
The Gambia We Want
Ousainou J. Sawaneh