International rights group, Human Rights Watch said Gambian authorities are using violence to silence critics of the regime of the country’s longtime ruler, President Yahya Jammeh ahead of the December 1 presidential polls.
Amid claims that the government is persecuting activists and opposition members, the group has called on the international community to place sanctions on the tiny West African nation.
At least two opposition activists have died, one of them tortured in custody by security forces under the command of President Yahya Jammeh. More than 50 people were arrested after riot police used excessive forward to suppress the rare protests in and around the capital, Banjul.
Gambia’s Attorney General said the police used force within the law, although they opened fire and used teargas on protesters – beating, slapping and kicking them and throwing them like “sardines” into the back of waiting trucks.
The UN said opposition detainees were denied medical care and Gambian officials are fighting a request for an investigation by the African Union and UN Rights Commission.
“Abuses committed since April, as well as Jammeh’s repeated threats, have reinforced a climate of fear among many opposition politicians and activists that severely limits their ability to criticize Jammeh and his government,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
President Yahya Jammeh this summer faced condemnation after threatening genocide towards the Mandinka ethnic group and said UN chief with rights groups “can go to hell” after they demanded an independent investigation into the death-in-custody of a senior opposition member, Ebrima Solo Sandeng.
It’s been more than six months since Sandeng’s death and his body has not been returned to his family. His son, Mohammed has written to the EU visiting parliamentarians to The Gambia to help have his father’s remains returned to them. Activists say Sandeng’s body may never be seen again.
Ahead of the polls, more than 19 opposition supporters including UDP leader Ousainou Darboe and his entire executive were jailed for three years. Gambian authorities continue to prosecute and detain at least 30 others.
“The Gambian government should immediately release all peaceful protesters, initiate a transparent and impartial investigation into opposition deaths in custody, grant opposition parties access to state media outside the framework of the official campaign, and cease using state resources for campaigning,” according to HRW.
The European Union said it will be forced to place targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans if rights conditions do not improve and continue to deteriorate.
President Yahya Jammeh accused the protesters of using the right to protest to violently overthrow his government. Jammeh publicly stated that the opposition activists were sponsored by Western nations to “destabilize the country.”
The Gambia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Samsudeen Sarr was caught in a leaked recording that if he was in charge of the security forces, he would order them to open fire on the protesters and “kill them all.” Sarr was given an award by President Jammeh two months later.
Security forces in The Gambia have been urged to respect the opposition’s rights to campaign freely and peacefully without fear of harassment or arrest.
The Gambia’s military chief issued a warning that electoral violence will not be condoned regardless of what political party anyone found wanting belongs to but Gambian authorities have declined to release information or prosecute a supporter of President Yahya Jammeh’s party who attacked the UDP convoy, attempting to reach its presidential candidate Adama Barrow with a pickaxe in Bwiam, some 65 miles east of the city of Brikama.
Barrow on Sunday got the backing of seven opposition parties to lead a coalition to challenge Jammeh. It is the first time a majority of the political parties in The Gambia formed a coalition after failed and stalled talks in the past twenty years.