Media Rights Agenda (MRA) joined 35 other non-governmental organizations in July in a call to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to put an end to the 20 years of repression and impunity for human rights violations in The Gambia. The groups issued a joint statement on July 22, 2014 to mark the 20th anniversary of President Jammeh’s ascension to power and the beginning of his iron rule in The Gambia, following his overthrowing President Dawda Jawara on July 22, 1994. The groups called the attention of the international community, in particular, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and African States, to the deteriorating human rights situation and lack of effective remedies for victims in Gambia over the last 20 years.
They said: “The Gambian government tolerates no dissent and commits serious human rights violations.” Elaborating further, they noted that “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.”
The statement recounted some specific human rights violations perpetrated by Jammeh’s government within the period. These violations 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 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.
They noted that the Gambian government has repeatedly failed to comply with several rulings by the ECOWAS Court of Justice, including refusing to compensate Musa Saidykhan, and the families of Ebrima Manneh and Deyda Hydara. This is against the backdrop that these flagrant and ongoing human rights violations are being committed by the government hosting the ACHPR, the primary human rights institution of Africa.
The justice system, the groups said, has also been weakened since President Yahya Jammeh came to power. They pointed out that the system is undermined by interference by the Executive and increasingly repressive legislation aimed at muzzling dissent.
The groups urged President Jammeh to ensure that Gambian authorities, among other things, 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; and 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.
They also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including journalist Ebrima Manneh and members the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) Amadou Sanneh, Alhagie Sambou Fatty and Malang Fatty; release of all those who are currently detained unlawfully or charge them with a recognizable offence in a fair trial; and prompt implementation and enforcement of judgments from the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the cases of journalists Ebrima Manneh, Musa Saidykhan and Deyda Hydara.
The 36 non-governmental organisations comprising of mainly freedom of expression advocates and others are based in different African countries and across other regions of the world.