Gambia releases opposition leader
A prominent Gambian opposition figure arrested on 8 March and later charged with sedition and spying, was unconditionally released on Friday. Halifa Sallah is believed to have been arrested for articles he wrote for the main opposition newspaper Foroyya, which claimed that witch doctors accompanied by members of the army, police and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) including “the green boys” - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's personal protection guards - were identifying people as witches. Those suspected of being witches were attacked, arrested, and detained at the president's farm in Kanilai and forced to drink concoctions that were supposed to determine whether they were witches. Those accused would then be forced to confess to being a witch. In some cases, they were also severely beaten almost to the point of death. It was also suspected that Halifa Sallah’s arrest was linked to him writing to the National Security Council in Gambia to demand that a stop be put to these actions, describing them as "gross violations of human rights and infringements on the privacy of Gambians". Amnesty International had expressed concern that Mr Sallah was at risk of being tortured or ill-treated and that his trial would be unfair. Mr Sallah's next court date was set for 25 March. Halifa Sallah is a former member of the Pan African Parliament and minority leader of the National Assembly. He is Secretary General of the People’s Democratic Organization of Independence and Socialism and coordinator of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development. He stood as a presidential candidate in the Gambia in 2006. Arrested at his home in Serrekunda, a suburb of the capital Banjul on 8 March, Halifa Sallah was taken to Serrekunda police station by five plain clothed policemen. He was moved to Yundung police station in a neighbouring suburb on 9 March. The next day he was moved to Banjul police station. He was charged with sedition and spying by the Brikama magisterial court on 11 March and sent to the remand section of Mile II, the Central Prison in the Gambia. Following Halifa Sallah's arrest several hundred people from Sintet village are reported to have been arrested and unlawfully detained by members of the army, police, and NIA and brought to Kanilai. It has been reported that shortly after their release two people died of kidney related complications. In Gambia journalists and members of the opposition are frequently harassed, unlawfully arrested, detained or disappeared.