Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy has put it to the country’s new interior minister that National Security will not be compromised and said she will not question the new cabinet member’s fitness to serve the important role based on his military experience.
Security forces have used national security as a premise to detain, torture or kill opponents in The Gambia prompting the EU to threaten sanctions if conditions do not improve.
“It is always President Jammeh’s believe that for development to take place there must be peace. Peace and security cannot be compromised. We live in a volatile world with security always at the top of the agenda,” Njie-Saidy, who is also the head of the National Security Council said.
New interior minister Momodou Alieu Bah replaces Ousman Sonko who has been implicated in many of The Gambia government’s human rights violations. Sonko has been Mr. Jammeh’s longest serving interior minister and allegedly oversaw the killing of journalist Deyda Hydara and the execution of at least nine inmates at the Mile II prisons.
Attorney General Mama Fatima Singhateh in April defended the use of force by security forces to suppress protesters. The security forces were under the watch of the former interior minister Ousman Sonko who has sworn at the time not to compromise national security and “would deal with anyone who wants to jeopardize the peace and security of the country,” ahead of the country’s presidential polls.
VP Isatou Njie-Saidy has been accused by student rights campaigners of giving orders in April 2000 for security forces to open fire on student demonstrators, killing at least 14 of them including a nine-year-old boy.
President Yahya Jammeh defended the action of the security forces and an indemnity act has since been signed into law protecting security forces who act to ensure national security is kept intact are immune to prosecution for “taking the law into their own hands.”
Activists say it led to widespread impunity and a sharp increase in human rights violations by Gambian security forces, especially members of the military within the elite presidential guard unit.
A joint security unit that shot and killed a young lady, Binta Jarju in a taxi in early 2015 and the security officers who opened fire killing her have not been prosecuted for saying the moving taxi that refused to stop may have been carrying insurgents or weapons.
The Gambia is heading to the polls in December and the country was shaken by rare protests in April and May. President Jammeh blamed dissident Gambians abroad for influencing the protests and accused them of attempting to destabilize the country. He has since sworn to put away for good anyone found wanting or attempting to end his rule.
If the opposition stays divided, Jammeh may easily win a fifth term but if a coalition of all opposition parties challenges him, he is more than likely to lose. Jammeh is not expected to vacate the presidency and has advised anyone who seeks to replace him to be “ready to put his or her life on the line because I put mine on the line.”
Jammeh has surrounded himself with loyalists in the security services and attempts to protest or carry out an Arab Spring-type revolution will be met with fierce force in the name of national security.