The Gambian Press Union (GPU) has welcomed the ruling by the High Court in Banjul, which dismissed the detention of Alagie Bora Sisawo, a culture and society talk show host, as unlawful and violative of his rights.
In a statement released to the press, the GPU praised the ruling as a win for press freedom and urged the Gambian government to abide by it.
“The GPU urges the Gambia government to fully comply with the Court’s ruling, and to ensure that the rights of media workers and citizens are respected in law and in practice, including to right to freedom of expression,” the statement said.
The court said Sissawo’s detention by the police from October 4 to October 10, 2023 was unlawful and a breach of his fundamental human rights, awarding him D500, 000 ($8,168) in damages, following a suit filed by his lawyers with support from Kerr Fatou against the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Gambia’s Attorney General.
Justice Ebrima Jaiteh, who presided over the case, ruled that the IGP and his officers “had no justifiable reason to detain” Sisawo beyond the legal limit of 72 hours, according to media reports. The police have also been ordered to return Sissawo’s mobile phone, an iPhone 13 pro max, which was seized 38 days ago following his arrest.
According to him, “no person should be arrested and detained beyond the constitutional limit without charge.”
“The police are duty bound and under obligation to protect the fundamental rights of every person in the Gambia,” Justice Jaiteh said. “No [one’s] rights should be violated with impunity.”
In a dictatorship-era-style operation, the police detained Sisawo incommunicado for more than 48 hours with his whereabouts unknown and without having access to his family or a lawyer, over comments he made in reaction to a barrage of remarks by President Adama Barrow that directly threaten the state of press freedom, freedom of expression and the country’s fledgling democracy.
As it would turn out later, he had been held at the headquarters of the Anti-Crime Unit of the Gambia Police Force in Banjulinding, 23km from the capital, Banjul.
He was released on October 10 and said he was beaten by the police and dumped in the mud in the process.
Prior to the October arrest and detention, the broadcaster had earlier been arrested on 13 August, 2023 for criticizing the Gambian President, Adama Barrow, and the Inspector General of Police, Abdoulie Sanyang.
At the time, he told the GPU he was questioned for a cumulative three hours on different dates over comments he made in one of his shows about the president and the police chief and the military coup in Niger. His phone was taken from him by the police for two hours during his three-day detention.
In the wake of the coup in Niger, Sisawo had expressed support for coups against “undemocratic and self-centered African governments” and also condemned the arrest of Senegalese citizens who protested against visiting President Macky Sall, and for saying that the IGP and President Barrow should be ashamed of themselves for arresting the Senegalese protesters, according to media reports.
He was eventually released on police bail without charge on 15 August, 2023.