The Gambia
Wave of arrests after Gambian election

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UDP (Darboe's party)

Gambian President Jammeh

«Put all the differences behind us.»

Yayah Jammeh

afrol News, 25 October - After the victory of military President Yayah Jammeh in the Gambian 18 October elections, which was marred with incidents of violence, several human rights activists and oppositional politicians were jailed. Amnesty International today called on Jammeh to immediately and unconditionally release Mohamed Lamin Sillah and others.

Mohamed Lamin Sillah is the Secretary General of Amnesty International's Gambian section, and was arrested on 22 October 2001, according to the human rights group. The organisation also requested a meeting with President Yayah Jammeh and a delegation is preparing to travel to Banjul in a letter sent to him today.

The arrest of Sillah (36), a former agricultural science teacher, is one in a series of arrests which followed President Jammeh's electoral victory, announced on 19 October. At least 13 members of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), were also arrested on and around 22 October and are currently reported to be held in police custody in Brikama and Mansa Konko. 

There have been reports of further additional arrests of members of the opposition coalition of the UDP, the Progressive People's Party and the Gambian People's Party.

- The arrest of Mohamed Lamin Sillah is an open attack on all human rights defenders in Gambia, Amnesty today stated in a press release. "We consider it also an attack on Amnesty International and its worldwide membership. He has been detained solely because of his active work in defending human rights." 

The group also says it is "deeply concerned at the continued detention of Mohamed Lamin Sillah, a valued office-bearer and long-term member of Amnesty International, whom we consider to be a prisoner of conscience."

Mohamed Lamin Sillah appears to have been arrested for critical comments he made in a BBC broadcast. According to Amnesty, he is detained without charge, incommunicado, at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in Banjul. Members of a coalition of Gambian human rights organizations and Amnesty International were denied access to him on 23 October.

- We are also concerned for his safety in the light of a well-established pattern of ill treatment of detainees at the NIA headquarters, Amnesty International said.

Others who were arrested included George Christensen, the owner of an independent radio station, Radio 1FM, and Dr Moudou Manneh, a member of a coalition of opposition parties. Both men, now released, were considered by Amnesty International to have been prisoners of conscience too.

According to Amnesty, "these arrests constitute a serious attack on the right to liberty, freedom of expression and non-violent political activity in Gambia. They are in breach of Gambia's obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The obligation undertaken by Gambia under these human rights instruments is that they should be implemented in good faith."

Since President Jammeh took power in 1994 in a military coup, freedom of expression has come under severe attack, both through repressive legislation and numerous arrests, harassment and ill treatment of human rights defenders, journalists and non-violent critics of the government. 

On several occasions, President Jammeh has publicly threatened human rights activists and opposition politicians. His last such threat was made after he lifted a ban on political activities in July 2001 prior to the October presidential elections when publicly stated "anyone bent on disturbing the peace and stability of the nation would be buried six feet deep".

Following his re-election, President Jammeh is reported to have said that while he had been considered punishing his opponents, he was now set on reconciliation. Jammeh, directing himself towards the leader of the oppositional UDP, Ousainou Darboe, on Tuesday said, "I would want to enjoin you all after the celebrations, to put the campaign and all the euphoria, the differences and misunderstanding of politics behind us and come together as one people to work with my government, supporters and non-supporters alike, to further develop this country." 

President Jammeh officially was re-elected with 52.96 percent of the vote. His main challenger, the UDP's Darboe, conceded defeat with 32 percent of the vote. Although the election campaign was marred with incidents of violence, a Commonwealth Observer mission concluded the polls were "conducted satisfactorily". 

Sources: Amnesty International and afrol archivhes

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