Annual Report: Gambia 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Gambia 2010

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Head of state and government Yahya Jammeh
Death penalty abolitionist in practice
Population 1.7 million
Life expectancy 55.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 123/109 per 1,000
Adult literacy 42.5 per cent

The government continued to stifle political and social dissent. Members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), army and police arbitrarily arrested and detained government opponents, human rights defenders, journalists and former security personnel. Reportedly, President Yahya Jammeh publicly threatened human rights defenders and those who co-operated with them. The authorities threatened to resume executions after more than 20 years.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The police, NIA and army arrested and detained people in breach of safeguards in national law. Detainees were held in official places of detention such as the Mile 2 Central Prison, the NIA headquarters and police detention centres, as well as in secret detention centres, including military barracks, secret quarters in police stations, police stations in remote areas and warehouses.

  • In March, more than 1,000 villagers from Foni Kansala district were taken to secret detention centres by "witch hunters" from Guinea and Burkina Faso dressed in red hooded outfits. The "witch hunters" were allegedly brought in by the President and accompanied by Gambian police, soldiers, NIA agents and the President's personal guards. The villagers were reportedly forced to drink hallucinogenic liquids and confess to "witchcraft". The drinks appeared to cause kidney problems and reportedly led to at least six deaths. Opposition leader Halifa Sallah, who wrote about the "witchcraft campaign" in the opposition newspaper Foroyaa, was detained, charged with treason and held in Mile 2 Central Prison until his case was dropped in late March. The "witchcraft campaign" ceased after it was publicly exposed, but none of those involved in the abuses was brought to justice.

Several people were held in long-term detention without trial. Among them were at least 19 people, including Senegalese and Nigerian nationals, who were held without charge in Mile 2 Central Prison maximum security cell, one for at least 13 years.

  • At least two people arrested in connection with a March 2006 coup plot remained in detention. Alieu Lowe was held without charge or trial and Hamadi Sowe, charged with concealment of treason, was held without trial.

Freedom of expression – journalists

Freedom of expression continued to be severely limited. Journalists faced threats and harassment if they were suspected of writing stories unfavourable to the authorities or of providing information to media outlets.

  • On 15 June, seven journalists were arrested after criticizing the President for comments he made about the unsolved 2004 murder of Deyda Hydara, former editor of The Point newspaper. The seven were charged with defamation and sedition. One was later released on bail and charges subsequently dropped. On 6 August, the remaining six were convicted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a fine. Emil Touray, Secretary General of the Gambian Press Union (GPU); Sarata Jabbi Dibba, Vice President of the GPU; Pa Modou Faal, Treasurer of the GPU; Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, respectively publisher and editor of The Point newspaper; and Sam Sarr, editor of Foroyaa newspaper, were prisoners of conscience. They were released under a presidential pardon on 3 September.

Enforced disappearances

The fate and whereabouts of at least eight people arrested in previous years, including opposition supporters and journalists, remained unknown.