(JollofNews) – FIDH and member organisations of the #MyvVoteMustCount Coalition condemn the bloody crackdown by Gambian police on the peaceful demonstrations held on April 14 and 16 calling for an electoral reform ahead of the December 2016 presidential election. This repression resulted in the arrest of dozens of opponents and the death in custody of three of them. Eight months ahead of the presidential election, our organisations call upon the Gambian authorities to stop the repression against the opposition, to shed light on the death in custody of the three opponents, to release all those arbitrarily detained and to organize free, multiparty and transparent elections.
On April 14, 2016, a popular demonstration was organized in Banjul, the Gambia capital city, demanding an electoral reform for the presidential election to be held in December this year. This demonstration was violently repressed by the police, which carried out many arrests, including of Ebrima Solo Sandeng, one of the leaders of the United Democratic Party (UDP), the main opposition party in the Gambia. The latter died on April 15, after one day in detention, in circumstances indicating that his death may have been caused by torture and other ill-treatments,. The United Nations has confirmed the death of two other activists in custody, also members of the UDP without giving more information about them.
A new demonstration, held on April 16 calling for justice after the death of Solo Sandeng and the release of arbitrarily detained persons, was again violently repressed by Gambian security forces. Demonstrators were dispersed with tear gas and bullets. Ms Fatoumata Jawara, leader of the youth section of the UDP and Ms Nogoi Njie, second vice-president of the women wing of the party, were seriously injured and arrested after being beaten during the demonstration. Mr Oussainou Darboe, leader of the UDP, and dozens of other opponents arrested during the demonstrations are still held incommunicado.
“Gambian authorities must immediately stop the ongoing repression, release all those arbitrarily detained, and shed light on the serious crimes perpetrated during the weekend of April 14 to 16, including on the circumstances of the death of the three opponents. Those responsible for these crimes must be identified and prosecuted before independent courts” said Drissa Traore, FIDH Vice President.
These peaceful demonstrations were organized to protest against the reforms of the 2009 Elections Act introduced by the government in July 2015, regarding in particular the conditions of participation in the presidential election. These reforms provide for the payment of a 500,000 dalasis (about 11,700 euros) bail to be candidate and the payment of 1 million dalasis (about 23,400 euros) to form a political party. Each party must receive at least 10 000 signaturesfrom citizens and have one representative in every electoral constituencies. Moreover, these reforms have brought to 65 the maximum age for candidacy. Only a few months before election date, and while Yahya Jammeh was sworn candidate on February 26, 2016, for the Alliance for patriotic reorientation and construction, the ruling party, our organisations fear that the regime is trying to prevent political competition and denounce violations of political pluralism that may arise.
Since his accession to power after a coup in 1994, president Yahya Jammeh has systematically silenced all opposition and questioning voices. The crackdowns on April 14 and 16 2016, highlight the repressive nature of the current regime. As the election of December approaches, our organisations fear that the government will increase its repression against political opponents, independent journalists and human rights defenders, which could degenerate into pre-election violence.
“Eight months ahead of the presidential election the government of Yahya Jammeh must absolutely stop the repression against dissenting voices and respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, so that the electoral process will be credible, inclusive and peaceful”, said Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union.
This new outbreak of violence took place while the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights was holding its 58th ordinary session until April 20 in Banjul. The African Commission and the UN have furthermore denounced these serious events and called upon Gambian authorities to conduct an independent investigation on the death in custody of the three opponents and on the violence against protesters and to immediately and unconditionally release all persons arbitrarily detained.