Gambian authorities should either charge or release family members of people suspected to be involved in December’s alleged failed coup, and grant them immediate access to lawyers, Amnesty International said today.
According to Amnesty International’s information, Gambian law enforcement agencies including the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Presidential guard have arrested at least 30 people, including a 16-year-old boy, since the beginning of January. They are being detained without charge. Security forces have threatened to arrest anyone demanding the release or whereabouts of those arbitrarily detained.
“The arrest and prolonged detention of family members of the alleged coup plotters, who have had no opportunity to challenge their detention, violates the basic legal protections provided for by the country’s constitution, as well as regional and international human rights law,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.
“If the Gambian authorities want justice, they should either charge those arrested with recognizable criminal offences, if there are legitimate reasons for doing so, or release them. Keeping so many people detained arbitrarily would be more about instilling fear in the country than pursuing justice.”
Gunmen attacked the presidential palace in the Gambian capital Banjul on 30 December. At least four assailants were reportedly killed and one captured by the security forces. The Gambian authorities have not returned the bodies of those killed to their families and there is currently no information on the whereabouts of the person who was captured.
Since the attempted coup, there has been a wave of arrests, detentions and harassment across the country targeting family members of those suspected of involvement in the failed coup.
Family members of Bai Lowe, a man suspected of having taken part in the attack against the State House, have been in detention without any charge since 1 January. Five NIA officers raided their compound in a village south of Banjul with a list of people to arrest. They arrested Lowe’s 16-year-old son, his ex-wife and his brother. There is still no information about their whereabouts. According to the Gambian constitution, anyone arrested should be brought before a court within 72 hours.
The NIA also arrested Omar Malleh Jagne, the brother of another suspected coup plotter, Njaga Jagne, who was killed by the security forces on 30 December. Omar Malleh Jagne, a father of nine children, was taken to an unknown location and has not been heard of since.
Several other family members of suspected coup plotters have fled the country in fear of reprisals. According to Amnesty International’s information, soldiers suspected of being involved in the attempted coup are expected to be arrested and tried before a military court soon. They face the death penalty if convicted.
Amnesty International is calling on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to stop using the alleged coup as excuse for a clampdown on peaceful dissenters. On 14 January, President Jammeh announced that the authorities were willing to work closely with the UN to investigate the events of 30 December.
“This investigation must include the arrests and detentions that took place following the attempted coup. The Gambian authorities should provide unfettered access to detention centres, including those run by the military,” said Steve Cockburn.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Gambia is a state party provides in Article 6 that “every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained.”