The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called on Gambia to thoroughly investigate the death in detention of opposition activist Solo Sandeng and two other party members.
Ban “learned with dismay” of the deaths after Sandeng and dozens of opposition members were arrested Thursday for taking part in a peaceful protest in the capital Banjul, a statement from his spokesman said.
Sandeng had recently been promoted to organizing secretary of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP).
UDP leader Ousainou Darboe confirmed Sandeng’s death to AFP on Saturday and said two women who were also detained were in a coma.
The UN statement did not release details of the two other activists who also died in custody.
Ban “calls on the authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances that led to their death while under state custody,” said the spokesman.
Expressing deep concern about the “apparent use of excessive force and the arrest” of peaceful demonstrators, Ban called on the government to “immediately and unconditionally” release all those arrested including leader Darboe, who was hauled away by police during a second round of demonstrations on Saturday.
President Yahya Jammeh must “uphold the rights of the Gambian people to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” he added.
Gambia government denies death reports, defends actions
The Gambian government has also come out in defence of the arrests describing those arrested as law breakers.
Sheriff Bojan, Gambia’s information minister said he knows nothing about anyone being killed. But he said opposition leader Darboe and his “cohorts” broke Gambian law by holding a demonstration without permission from the police.
“Mr. Darboe is veteran lawyer and he’s quite an informed that in the Gambia just like in every other country there is something called the Public Order Act which forbids procession, street protests, meetings, and so forth without first seeking and being granted permission by the police. But he and his cohorts decided to completely flout that law, and in the Gambia, just like in any other country, there acts and reactions; there causes and effects. So, I don’t they have anyone to blame for their dispersal and subsequent arrests,” he said.
But Pa Samba Jow, spokesman for the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists in the Diaspora said Gambia’s constitution guarantees the right to peaceful protest.
“First of all, let us be very clear. Section 25, subsection 1-D of the Gambian constitution gives every Gambian the right to peacefully protest. So, it is absolute incorrect to suggest that one needs a permit to protest. But what is important to us is, what has those people done to warrant a brute that was used by the government to confront them. So the matter here is, if there are any law breakers, the law breakers are the government and the security forces because they violated the fundamental human and constitutional rights of Gambians by attacking peaceful protesters,” Jow said.
Bojan said those arrested will be taken to court in due time, but he said security and maintenance of the public is paramount in Gambia.
“The president of the Islamic Republic of the Gambia, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh has been saying time and again that public law and order and security will not be compromised in the Gambia. The Gambia is known for its civility, is known for its stability, is known for its tranquility, and no one will be allowed to put a pin in that balloon of tranquility,” Bojan said.
Jow described Bojan as the minister of misinformation. He challenged the government to produce Solo Sandeng and others believed to have been killed by security forces.
“I wish that we were talking about somebody who was speaking for a credible government, but this is a government that has no credibility and of course what they have to do is to resort to denials. The simple matter here is that if Solo Sandeng is alive, if Fatoumata Jawara is alive, and if Ngoi Njie is alive, all they can do is to parade them on national TV and let them speak to the Gambian people to tell them that guess what, we are alive and well,” Jow said.
A military officer and former wrestler, Jammeh has ruled the west African country since he seized power in a coup in 1994, and is regularly accused of human rights abuses.
During the protest on Thursday, Gambian security forces beat dozens of UDP activists, rounded them up and took them to an unknown location.
Sandeng was taken away separately from his colleagues. He had previously been detained by the authorities in 2013, according to Amnesty International.