By Kebba Jeffang
A free speech and media right defender, Article 19 on Wednesday, 29th April, 2015 drew the attention of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the deteriorating situation of human rights and freedom of expression in the Gambia by the government.
Madam Fatou Jagne, the Director of Article 19 for West Africa based in Dakar, Senegal speaking at the session indicated that freedom of expression is an important pillar in the protection of human rights. She noted without the respect of this right, other human rights will be meaningless.
She said the Commission should re-consider the Gambia’s continued violation of human rights and freedom of expression against its citizens.
“Despite the resolutions and recommendations of the Commission, the Gambia government continues to systematically violate the most basic human rights of its citizens,” she said.
Madam Jagne disclosed that these violations are often legitimized by the draconian laws that have been adopted to stifle the already closed and repressive environment.
“Beyond these laws, widespread arbitrary arrests, persecution of journalists, dissidents and ordinary citizens is still perpetuated.”
She said The Gambia for the past 20 years failed to submit its reports on the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights adding that as of today 10 reports are overdue.
“It has not received a single Commission’s mission. The last and only report of this Commission was on prisons and dated back in 1999.
Madam Jagne further informed the session that since the failed coup on the 30th December 2014, 30 relatives including women and a child have been arrested and detained without access to family and lawyers. She said no charges have been brought against them.
She said persons suspected of having participated in the December, 2014 coup have been tried by Court Martial in a trial that was expedited and in March, 2015, 3 of them were sentenced to death. The bodies of people killed during the coup are still not released, she said.
Madam Jagne, on behalf of Article 19 called on the ACHPR to urge the Gambia government to submit its periodic report and authorise the Commission to conduct a fact finding mission on the situation of human rights, to return to the families the bodies of those killed in December, 2014 and to provide information to families on the graves of those executed in 2012, to release people arbitrarily detained since January, 2015 and stop the persecution and intimidation of citizens, journalists and political dissidents, to respect and implement the decisions of the ECOWAS Court on the cases of journalists, to put an end to practice of enforced disappearance and to provide information on individuals who disappeared for the past 20 years.