(JollofNews) – The United States Government of President Donald Trump has severely criticised the former Gambian regime of President Yahya Jammeh over its treatment and lack of respect for the rights and liberties of Gambians.
Mr Jammeh who governed the Gambia for 22 years was booted out power in January 2017 after a shock defeat in the presidential election by opposition candidate Adama Barrow. He is currently living in exile in Equatorial Guinea with his wife and family as part of a deal brokered by regional group, Ecowas.
But in its 2016 annual Human Rights and Labour Report, the Trump Administration said during Mr Jammeh’s last year in power, his regime committed many human rights abuses with impunity including enforced disappearances, arrest, torture and murder of political opponents thereby creating a more restrictive environment for Gambians in the country including journalists and government critics.
It said although the Gambian constitution and laws prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were reports there were several reports Mr Jammeh’s government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The report cited the death in police custody of Solo Sandeng, organising secretary of the United Democratic Party (UDP) as an example. It said Mr Sandeng was arrested on 14th April 2016 and reportedly tortured to death by members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for leading a peaceful protest demanding “proper electoral reform.” It said Nogoi Njie, one of the incarcerated protesters, said she saw Sandeng at NIA headquarters on April 14 “completely naked, flat on the ground, badly beaten, his body swollen, and bleeding profusely.”
It also cited the death in custody of Ebrima Solo Krummah, UDP deputy chairman of the Sandu Darsilami constituency who was arrested, tortured and denied medical treatment after his arrest on 9th May 2016, along with several other UDP members.
The report said like in previous years, there were reports of politically motivated disappearances last year. It cited the abduction on April 14 and April 16 of Sanusi Sanyang, a UDP supporter by men in civilian clothes.
It added that although torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is prohibited by the constitution and laws of the Gambia, there were reports that security forces last year tortured, beat, and mistreated persons in custody.
It cited the arrest in May 2016 of three men who were charged with sedition after they allegedly said in a private conversation overheard by a government official that President Jammeh disliked the Mandinka ethnic group. The report said the men’s lawyer said told a magistrates’ court that they were physically and psychologically tortured, threatened with electric shock, and held at gunpoint to compel them to sign statements of guilt written by the police.
It also cited the arrest in April 2016 of opposition activist Nogoi Njie by security officers for taking part in an unauthorized’ protest. The report said Ms Njie specified in affidavit that she was handcuffed and beaten with hoses and batons while water was poured over her and that she was threatened with death.
The Trump administration further added that prison conditions under Mr Jammeh’s regime were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
It said prison cells were overcrowded, damp, and poorly ventilated and inmates complained of poor sanitation and food, and occasionally of having to sleep on the floor.
The report cited the case of one female prisoner who reported that she was held in a cell that often experienced total darkness for long periods at night and was often subject to electrical shocks due to faulty wiring in the cell, a situation that was not addressed.
The Trump Administration said the Gambian security services is corrupt and ineffective and operates with impunity.
It added that while Gambian law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant and detain them beyond the constitutional 72- hours without charge or informing detainees promptly of charges against them.
It noted that although there was a functioning bail system in the country, prosecutors customarily opposed applications for bail for detainees charged with misdemeanours and ordered lengthy adjournments to allow additional time to prepare their cases.
It added that judges and magistrates sometimes set bail bonds at unreasonably high amounts and some offenders who are released on bail by the courts often gets rearrested by police or other law enforcement personnel as they leave the courts to provide the prosecution more time to prepare cases.
It said over the past year, officials did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members and the government has failed to repeal military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution which give the NIA and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.”
The Trump Administration said while the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; the Jammeh regime restricted these rights and the environment for independent and opposition media was hostile, with numerous obstacles to freedom of expression, including administrative hurdles, arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation and judicial harassment against journalists, and the closure of media outlets, leading to self-censorship.
It said until the demise of Mr Jammeh’s regime, local journalists were harass and detained while numerous media outlets perceived to be critical of the government were shut down.