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Mass prisoner release is a step forward but many political opponents and prisoners of conscience remain in detention

The release of at least 200 prisoners is a welcome step forward for human rights in Gambia, but should go further to release other prisoners of conscience still detained in the country, Amnesty International said today.

President Yahya Jammeh has this afternoon released at least 200 prisoners, following a promise he made during a speech marking his 21 year anniversary in power on Wednesday. These include numerous prisoners jailed for treason, drug offences and corruption; among them a former director of the National Intelligence Agency, Lamin Bo Badjie, former Justice minister Momodou Lamin Jobarteh and former police chief Ensa Badjie.

Many family members of people accused of being involved in December 2014’s attempted coup d’état were also released after nearly six months in detention.

Amnesty’s Researcher for West Africa Sabrina Mahtani said:

“The release of family members of alleged coup plotters is a welcome move, and one that is long overdue. The detention of these people for almost six months without charge or contact with their families or lawyers violated international and regional human rights law, as well as Gambia’s own constitution.”

Yet despite the releases, other political opponents, journalists and prisoners of conscience remain detained, including the national treasurer of the opposition United Democratic Party, Amadou Sanneh, as well as party members Alhagie Sambou Fatty and Malang Fatty. The trio were convicted in December 2013 and are considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience.

Last week the Managing Director of the independent Gambian radio station Teranga FM, Alagie Abdoulaye Ceesay, was arrested for the second time this month. He is being held without any contact with the outside world.

Sabrina Mahtani said:

“We hope that the release of hundreds of prisoners is a step forward for human rights in the country, but there remains much more to do. The Gambian authorities should go further by releasing immediately and unconditionally all those arrested for expressing their opinion, including journalist Alagie Abdoulaye Ceesay and members of the opposition.”

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