At least one opposition leader has been reported death in the hands of security officers following the April 14, 2016 protests.
Protesters from the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) led by the National Organising Secretary, Ebrima Solo Sandeng, and others from political parties like the National Convention Party and the National Reconciliation Party marched more than one kilometer from Serekunda to Westfield displaying a banner indicating “We Need Proper Electoral Reform”.
They were met with repression from the Police Intervention Unit along the Banjul highway, beaten and thrown into trucks before being whisked away, according to eyewitnesses. Some of the high profile arrests include Sandeng’s deputy at the UDP, Lang Marong, and UDP’s youth wing female president, Fatoumatta Jawara.
Death of Solo
On April 16, 2016, UDP leader Ousainou Darboe broke news of Sandeng’s “death” at a press conference. He said Ebrima Solo Sandeng “has died as a result of torture.”
He said: “I have information that Yankuba Badjie, director general of NIA got his officers drunk and unleash them to these defenseless citizens who did nothing other than exercise their rights.
“I have information that in the process of being tortured video recordings were being taken to show it to President Jammeh, at this time yesterday I was informed that Solo Sandeng was in a state of coma and he was not given any medical attention.
“By 10 o’clock at night I got information that Solo died as a result of the torture, one would have expected that a postmortem be carried out to determine the cause of his death.”
His claims have been corroborated by the multinational human rights agency, Amnesty International.
“The tragic death in detention of Solo Sandeng must leave no space for impunity. The authorities must conduct an immediate, thorough and independent investigation,” Amnesty’s West Africa Researcher Sabrina Mahtani said.
Mr. Darboe also said “Fatoumata Jawara is in a state of coma – between life and death, and Nogo Njie, the first vice president of the UDP female youth wing is also in similar situation” before leading another peaceful protest.
This time, both the Police Intervention Unit and Soldiers (members of the armed forces) were deployed to disperse protesters. A few hundred meters from Darboe’s home in Pipeline, they were stopped by armed security officers who used teargas and scuffles erupted before Darboe and his executive members were arrested.
Some protesters who fled were pursued in homes, beaten and taken into custody, according to eye witnesses and residents of Latrikunda German, a suburb where the protests fuelled. “Trucks of police and military officers patrolled the streets and forced people to stay indoors or risked being beaten and picked up,” one resident told FPI.
Severe response condemned
Meanwhile, the United States government has said in a statement it “condemns the Government of The Gambia’s severe response to recent peaceful protests.”
“We call for an immediate end to the violence and urge all Gambians to exercise restraint and remain calm,” spokesperson John Kirby said.
The United States call on the government of The Gambia to uphold its international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, which allows for peaceful assembly.
Opposition leader Mai Ahmed Fatty, also a lawyer, said “peaceful protest is a right as enshrined in the Constitution of The Gambia.”
The leader of the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) said the GMC support the right to peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution.
“I support, fully, all legitimate actions and initiatives that may either bring attention to, and or secure ‘proper’ electoral reforms,” said Mai Ahmed Fatty.
FPI observations since Thursday show residents in Banjul, the capital, and the Kanifing Municipality appears to be panic-stricken and business has been interrupted.
“People are ‘running scared’, and some don’t even know what they are running away from. On Thursday, people were calling each other on phone saying ‘close your shop and go home there is a coup – only to realize that it was a protest when we arrived home,” a shop owner at Serekunda market said.
“Today also we have to close our businesses at 1pm and go home when we heard there was another protest on Kairaba Avenue,” he told FPI on Saturday.
Youth leaders and activitists have call for more protests on Monday April 18 to seek for “justice for Solo and others arrested.
In a Facebook post, the chairman of the National Youth Council Ibrahim Ceesay wrote: “My fellow Gambians, especially the youth, as your Chairman and Youth Leader, let[’]s get to the streets on Monday 18 April 2016, for a PEACEFUL protest to demand #Justice for #SoloSandeng and to all brave Gambians arrested. #JammehMustGo #LetsDoItForGambia.”
April 2000 killings
In April 2000, the police used live ammunition, killing fourteen students, a Red Cross volunteer/radio journalist, and a three-year old that was hit by a stray bullet. Hundreds of others were injured. It is now referred to throughout The Gambia as the Student Massacre of 2000.
- Written by FPI’s Modou S. Joof
- Photos taken from Facebook