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Gambia: State of emergency no licence for repression

Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch Joint Press Release

Soldiers arbitrarily detained as political crisis deepens

President Yahya Jammeh’s declared state of emergency in Gambia provides no justification for a crackdown on peaceful dissent in the lead up to the 19 January deadline for the new government to take office, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

Since 15 January, security forces loyal to President Jammeh have arbitrarily detained at least five officers and enlisted men suspected of opposing Jammeh’s bid to remain in office. Since Jammeh rejected the 1 December election results on 9 December, The Gambian authorities have also arbitrarily arrested opposition sympathizers and closed four independent radio stations.  

The state of emergency raises fears of further repression against opposition supporters around the planned 19 January inauguration of president-elect Adama Barrow. Many Gambians have fled the country out of concerns for their security.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Deputy Director, said:

“Respect for human rights must not be a casualty of the current political crisis. The declared state of emergency must not be used as a pretext to crack down on peaceful dissent.”

On 17 January, Jammeh and Gambia’s National Assembly, which his party controls, declared a 90-day state of emergency. If authorised by the National Assembly, this would empower Jammeh to suspend certain basic due process rights, including the prohibition on detaining individuals without charge.

In announcing the state of emergency on state television, Jammeh said that “civil liberties are to be fully respected” but that “acts intended to disturb public order and peace” were banned. 

Several Gambian youth organisers told Amnesty and Human Rights Watch that they anticipated Gambians would take to the streets tomorow to celebrate Barrow’s inauguration. “We’re not scared anymore,” one said. “We just want this to be over.” One Gambian activist who said that intelligence officers detained and beat him on 10 January, said that they warned him: “If you try to do anything on 19 January, we will crush you like bedbugs.”

Since Sunday, the authorities have detained and held incommunicado at least five members of the armed forces - including Capt Babucarr Bah, Capt Demba Baldeh and Lt. Col. Hena Sambou – for supporting or planning to support Barrow. Sources say the soldiers are believed to be detained at the National Intelligence Agency and have had no contact with family members.

The arrests contradict an executive order announced by Jammeh on 10 January that there would be “no arrests” until 31 January.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has announced that it is preparing a military force led by Senegal and Nigeria for possible intervention if Barrow is prevented from assuming the presidency. Should an ECOWAS intervention occur, all measures need to be taken to ensure the protection of civilians and respect for human rights, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch said. 

President Jammeh publicly conceded defeat the day after the 1 December election, but then rejected the results on 9 December. His refusal to accept the election results has been widely condemned internationally, including by the United Nations Security Council, the African Union, and ECOWAS. 

On 13 January, the African Union stated that it would cease to recognise Jammeh as the legitimate president of Gambia on 19 January, and warned him of “serious consequences” should his action lead to “political disorder” or “human rights disaster.” Barrow is currently in neighboring Senegal for protection although plans are still under way for him to be sworn in as president tomorrow.

“The protection of human rights should be at the core of any solution to Gambia’s political crisis,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “If ECOWAS deploys military force, all sides will need to ensure the safety of civilians.”  


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