Gambia frees opposition leader

Amnesty International has welcomed the early release of a former Gambian opposition leader who was serving a one-year prison sentence for charges relating to a peaceful demonstration organized by his party in October 2009.

Femi Peters, campaign manager of the United Democratic Party was freed on 10 December, almost four months before his expected release in March 2011.

“That Femi Peters is free is great news and while the Gambian authorities have given no official reason for his release, it may be due to the pressure put on the government by Amnesty International members worldwide,” said Ayodele Ameen, Amnesty International’s Gambia Campaigner.

Femi Peters was one of ten individuals at risk of human rights abuse featured in Amnesty International’s global letter writing marathon, which ran from 4-14 December this year.

Amnesty International members in over 50 countries wrote letters and signed petitions calling for Femi Peters to be released.

Femi Peter’s daughter Regina Moore told Amnesty International: “On behalf of myself and Femi Peter’s families in the UK and Gambia, I want to thank Amnesty International for their concern, inputs and efforts geared towards the release of my dad. Your efforts are appreciated for bringing freedom to the one that deserves it.”

Femi Peters was arrested during a peaceful demonstration organized by his party in the city of Serekunda on Gambia’s west coast, on 25 October 2009.

He was charged with “control of procession and control of use of loud speakers in public” without permission from the Office of the Inspector General of Police, as required under the Public Order Act.

He was convicted and sentenced on 1 April 2010 to a mandatory jail term of one year and to pay a fine of D10,000 (£220).

On 5 August 2010 Femi Peter’s appeal at the High Court was dismissed by judge. His lawyer had filed a new appeal which was expected to be heard early in 2011.

Amnesty International considered Femi Peters to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for exercising his rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The organization continually campaigned for his release.