Gambia: Freedom of expression must not end after votes are counted
Authorities in Gambia must take all appropriate measures to ensure that forthcoming elections – including the period following the results - are held in a climate that is free from violence and which fully respects the right of all people to freely express their views, Amnesty International said today.
"The thousands of Gambians who have taken part in rallies for all candidates over the last two weeks is a remarkable sign of how precious the right to freedom of expression is in a country where it has been so rarely permitted,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“But it is crucial that these glimmers of freedom do not end after the votes are counted, and this is no time for complacency. Dozens of people remain behind bars in Gambia simply for expressing their opinion, and journalists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations still fear reprisals for speaking out. Gambians are claiming their rights, and whoever is elected must ensure they are respected.”
The thousands of Gambians who have taken part in rallies for all candidates over the last two weeks is a remarkable sign of how precious the right to freedom of expression is in a country where it has been so rarely permitted.
On Thursday 1 December, 2016, there will be presidential elections in Gambia. Amnesty International’s absolute focus is monitoring and advocating for the protection and promotion of human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly before, during and after the elections.
The organization does not evaluate whether an election is free or fair. However, given the consistent pattern of human rights violations in Gambia, as well as the authorities’ failure to respect the country’s obligations under international and regional human rights treaties to which the government has subscribed, Amnesty International may comment on the human rights context of the elections.
The election features three candidates – President Yahya Jammeh (APRC – Alliance for Patriotic Reconstruction and Construction), Adama Barrow (Coalition 2016 - a coalition of opposition parties) and Mama Kandeh (GDC – Gambian Democratic Congress) – in an election that will be won by whoever gains the most votes on 1 December. There is no second round. Results are expected on 2 December.
Like in the formal election campaign period in 2011, the two-week 2016 election campaign period has so far provided much greater level of respect for the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for opposition parties and supporters than other times in the year, with most major rallies permitted and largely free of repression. Thousands of people have taken part.
However, there have been a number of human rights violations committed around and during the campaign period, including the arrest of journalists, which formally began on 16 November.
In the weeks following the elections, there will also be a number of trials related to opposition peaceful protests that were repressed in April and May. On the week of 5th December, the trial of 14 people arrested for peacefully protesting in May will resume. On the week of 12th December, the courts are also due to begin to hear an appeal brought by opposition protestors who were convicted to three years imprisonment for their part in peaceful protests held in April.