A group of protesters that were denied a permit to occupy a square in a show of frustration over frequent power cuts were cleared to assembly just hours after the sacking of the country’s homeland security minister.
Alieu Bah, the leader of the #OccupyWestfield protest announced Friday that the police have given the movement a permit to hold their protest just outside the state-owned utility company’s head office.
“We have received clearance and security for the protest to take place on Sunday,” Bah said. “We are glad the police conceded finally to provide security for the peaceful assembly.”
Gambian authorities got accused of stifling dissent after the #OccupyWestfield movement was denied a permit last week.
“The Inspector General of Police denied the group a permit to peacefully gather at Westfield, through the use of the Public Order Act, a law that the former regime relied on in suppressing freedom,” said the movement in a statement.
“This was the same law that was used to jail the entire United Democratic Party leadership, which ironically saw President Barrow ascend into the position of leadership, ultimately becoming president.”
They held talks with security minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty and the President Adama Barrow’s National Security Advisor, Momodou Badjie.
Barrow sacked Fatty from his cabinet, redeploying him to foreign service just hours before Bah’s announcement. Fatty and police chief, Landing Kinteh said the protesters were denied permit over fragile security concerns.
Government supporters threatened to counter the protest and threats to were made to the lives of Bah and some of the movement leaders, accusing them of being funded by Diaspora dissidents to destabilize the country.
Police were deployed to strategic locations following counter protest reports. Protest organizers said it was an act of intimidation.
Authorities withdrew the police hours later after rights defenders say it was evocative of the former autocratic ruler, Yahya Jammeh’s behavior towards activists.
Activists accused the Barrow Administration of reverting to the ways of his predecessor, whose intolerance for criticism and disdain for protest, locked the tiny African nation in a rule of terror.
“What this new government is doing is very disappointing as it is worrying. They are showing tendencies of a dictatorship, with their disdain for dissent. It has not even been a year since we kicked out a previous dictator, who was notorious for levels of intolerance for citizens’ rights,” said Alieu Bah.
Occupy Westfield’s call for a nationwide protest is due to the dismal failure of the water and electricity company, which continues to plunge the country in darkness, a situation that has worsened under the Barrow administration.
Although the new administration is not responsible for the technical insolvency of the electricity and water company, which has been unable to deliver basic supply of water and electricity for almost 40 years, it is nevertheless, obligated to respect the constitution, which allows for citizens to peacefully gather and express themselves, in whatever form, as long as such assembly is lawful.
Added to this caveat, the current leadership of the United Democratic Party, which is now in power in a coalition government, challenged the very act that it is using to suppress the rights of Gambian’s to protest poor service delivery. The case is currently at the Supreme Court.
“The contradictions of this government are now clear for all to see. They say one thing and do the complete opposite. Their credibility levels are diminishing by the day, which is disappointing for people like me that stood up to the previous dictatorship,” said Ali Cham, an activist, and the first musician exiled for standing up to Jammeh’s dictatorship in 2015.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Writing by Sidi Sanneh)