On July 22, 1994, a group of military officers led by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh overthrew President Dawda Jawara, who had been in power in Gambia since 1970. Yahya Jammeh, supported by the army, proclaimed himself President of the Republic and, over time, took direct control of the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior.
The Gambian government tolerates no dissent and commits serious human rights violations. Human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and other Gambians who are critical of government policies continue to face intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, ill-treatment, death threats and enforced disappearance.
It has been 22 years of freedom of expression and human rights abuses. Some of the human rights violations recorded over the last 22 years include the killing of 14 protesters in April 2000, the killing of journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004, the enforced disappearance of journalist Ebrima Manneh in 2006, the torture of journalist Musa Saidykhan in 2006, the killing of 50 West Africans on the Gambian coast, the arbitrary executions of 9 prisoners in 2012, and the “incommunicado” detention of human rights defender Imam Baba Leigh for five months of the same year.
Several journalists, human rights defenders and citizens have been arbitrary arrested and detained for expressing themselves. Journalist Abdoulie Ceesay was arbitrarily detained for more than nine months and tortured by Gambian security forces. On July 19, 2016, 19 members of the opposition were sentenced to three years in prison for protesting the arrest and death of opposition figure Solo Sandeng.
The President Jammeh’s government has repeatedly failed to comply with several rulings by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, including refusing to compensate Musa Saidykhan, and the families of Ebrima Manneh and Deyda Hydara.
Since President Jammeh came to power, the justice system has been weakened and undermined by his interference and increasingly repressive legislation aimed at muzzling dissent. For example, in April 2013, the National Assembly passed amendments to the Criminal Code increasing sanctions for “giving false information to public servants” (Section 114) from six months imprisonment and/or a fine of 500 Dalasi (approximately US$13) to imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of 50,000 Dalasi (about US$1,293).
Further, in July 2013, the National Assembly passed the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act providing that internet users, journalists and bloggers found guilty of spreading false news can be punished by up to 15 years in prison and may be fined up to 3 million dalasi (approximately US$74,690).
In this pervasive climate of fear, most journalists, human rights defenders and citizens are forced to practice self-censorship or to flee the country.
We call the attention of the international community – in particular, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Union (AU), ECOWAS and African States – to the deteriorating human rights situation and lack of effective remedies for victims in Gambia over the last 20 years.
We urge the ECOWAS, AU, ACHPR, UN and the international community to ensure that Gambian authorities:
• Investigate all reported human rights abuses and bring perpetrators to justice;
• Repeal legislative provisions used to restrict freedom of expression, in particular the Information and Communication Act, the Indemnity Act and the Criminal Code Amendment;
• Uphold the universal rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association and allow journalists, human rights defenders and political activists to continue their activities unhindered without fear of attacks, arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearance;
• Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience, particularly members the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP)
• Release all those who are currently detained unlawfully or charge them with a recognizable offence in a fair trial;
• Promptly implement and enforce judgments from the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the cases of journalists Ebrima Manneh, Musa Saidykhan and Deyda Hydara.