State sponsored violence against protesters has escalated once again in Gambia as police in riot gear attacked citizens gathering to demonstrate against unfair treatment of opposition members in state custody. On Monday, protesters gathered outside the High Court in the capital Banjul as opposition leader Ousainou Darboe appeared for a court ruling.
Mr. Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) is on trial for his involvement in a protest held in April. He was arrested alongside 38 other opposition members, who have all been charged with conspiracy to commit a felony.
Protesters had trumped up charges filed against them for unlawful assembly, rioting, and inciting violence while peacefully protesting for political reforms and justice for the death of UDP official Solo Sandeng, who died in police custody. The accused pleaded not guilty and were denied bail on Thursday.
It was reported that over 50 opposition supporters who attended the protest were also arrested, as the protesters did not obtain permission to demonstrate.
A video posted by a Gambian diaspora news organization, The Fatou Network, from today’s demonstration show the abuse by state authorities against citizens gathering peacefully.
Upon learning about the violence targeting peaceful demonstrations, Samsudeen Sarr, the Gambia’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, was recorded saying that “if I were there and I were in charge I would fucking open fire to anybody.”
Mr. Sarr added that anyone attending the peaceful rally should have known they should lose their lives in it.
Jeff Smith, a human rights consultant, told SaharaReporters that Mr. Sarr’s comments are “emblematic of the wholly sadistic nature of the Jammeh regime. Ambassador Sarr is not some rogue element. In fact, he represents a thoroughly rotten government that is seemingly intent on beating, torturing and killing its own citizens as opposed to listening to their valid concerns regarding the lack of political rights and basic civil liberties in The Gambia.”
Mr. Smith added, “These comments are reprehensible, though sadly not surprising, given the Jammeh regime's horrendous track record of abuse over the past two decades.”
Responding to the day’s incidents, Mariam Secka, the deputy secretary general of the UDP, called on the international community to intervene on behalf of the arrested party members and activists.
“I would like for the international community to assist us as soon as possible because there is no justice in this country,” she said.
Ms. Secka expressed concern that Mr. Darboe will remain in custody until the December elections have concluded. President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the small West African country since 1994, will be seeking to extend his tenure.
Mr. Jammeh has been regularly criticized for violating human rights and suppressing journalists, activists, and protesters.