Time Magazine 100 most influential people and L’Oreal Women of Worth Award winner, Jaha Dukureh was harassed and had her car seized by the police in her native Gambia for refusing to pay a bribe.
Jaha is in Gambia, where she has been touring schools in mostly the northwest of the small nation educating young women and communities about the dangers of female genital mutilation.
Jaha was stopped in Sukuta, a small town 13 miles southwest of the capital, Banjul for driving a factory tinted vehicle.
Gambia suspended the issuance of permits for private citizens to use non-factory tinted glass windows on their vehicles but the move does not affect factory tinted windows like those that came with Jaha’s vehicle.
Those that have factory tinted windows have to pay D2,000 dalasis ($50 dollars) annually to the Gambia Revenue Authority.
Two police officers demanded a D300 dalasis ($8 dollars) bribe from Jaha and another driver that was pulled over.
While the unnamed driver paid and was allowed to leave, Jaha refused to give the bribe and demanded a citation.
“What I will not do is to pay a bribe. I refused to pay a bribe and I will refuse all over again,” she said.
“I was looking for a citation like any civilized country but they instead took my car, drivers license and insurance card.”
The two officers, who refused to give their names to the activist forced her to drive 19 minutes to the mobile traffic police station in Kanifing, just outside the commercial city of Serrekunda.
Jaha’s vehicle was stopped by the police at about 10 pm local time after dropping off some of her workmates and she did not leave the police station until 2 am.
The police officers were abusive and kicked her out of the station saying they were closing it, demanding she stays outside.
A friend of Jaha’s and renowned videographer and producer Alhagie Manka came to her rescue to drive her home.
Attempts by Manka to prevail over the cops led to the police calling Jaha: Alhagie’s girlfriend and making a mockery of the two.
“They call me his girlfriend. I was so offended by all of this that I cried. They said he came to help rush them so he can take me home and sleep with me. He came to help and instead, they disrespected him.”
“As a young woman, kicking me out of the police station in the middle of the night and disrespecting me by referring to me as someone’s girlfriend that’s in a haste to go do their job is low on all levels.”
The police routinely extort money from drivers on Gambian roads. Those who fail to pay are frequently threatened with arrest and physical harm.
Far too often, these threats are carried out, according to Human Rights Watch and the government has been urged to crackdown on bribery and related abuses.
“As a Gambian, my rights were violated. The officers did not even have the decency to properly explain what the issue is,” said Jaha.
“The fact that these officers accepted a bribe in front of me and allowed that car to go while they wasted my time is a problem that should concern every Gambian.”
Gambians voted for a new government ending decades of autocratic rule and impunity by law enforcement.
Jaha is disappointed and hurt that such is happening in a “New Gambia,” in which she would not mind paying a fine if, in fact, she violated a law.
Rampant police corruption denies Gambians equal and impartial justice and impedes the country’s post-dictatorial development.
Rights campaigners have expressed concerns that the attitude of the police have not changed and said they are failing to protect the population by continuing to prey on vulnerable people.
Gambians, they say, have had all too many years of chaos and abuse in the hands of law enforcement and added that a professional police force is critical to uphold people’s rights, end corruption and create a rights-respecting society.