Gambian authorities deployed riot police Sunday to disperse a gathering of the #OccupyWestfield movement after their assembly permit was denied.
The movement’s leaders gathered at the Westfield Square to give a statement against the reversal of the decision allowing them to protest by the country’s police chief.
A police commander leading the deployed squad of at least two dozen officers threatened to use violence against occupiers if they do not leave within three minutes.
“We will use violence against you and nothing will come of it,” the officer warned. Several activists were held back and some other protest supporters urged the crowd to disperse.
Gambia’s security forces have been accused of human rights violations, including torture and prolonged detentions. Riot police, especially have been involved in bullying and beating young people in the streets.
Gambian authorities cited national security as the reason for denying the protesters a permit, a decision that pro-democracy champions say contravenes the constitution and the spirit of the New Gambia.
Gambia’s security forces used excessive force to quell protests last year. It stirred anger among citizens after the death of opposition activist Solo Sandeng and jail of opposition leaders.
“To use the same force that quelled the April 14 and 16 peaceful protest to subvert the democratic rights of Gambians in this New Gambia is a travesty,” said political activist Pa Samba Jow.
“Jammeh’s excuse against the peaceful exercise of democratic rights was always ‘national security’ and his tool to subvert those rights has always been the police intervention unit.”
Yahya Jammeh was the former autocratic ruler that was defeated by new President Adama Barrow is last winter’s election that was seen as the biggest win for democracy following Trump’s election victory in the United States.
Security forces under then-President Jammeh acted with impunity but President Adama Barrow has pledged a new era in which Gambians will exercise their freedoms, have their liberties guaranteed and the rule of law reign.
Barrow has sacked his Minister of Interior Mai Ahmad Fatty, who had negotiated with the protesters to postponed the planned demonstration.
Fatty was called for a meeting to the presidency while he was in the middle of his second talks with the #OccupyWestfield movement leaders.
Occupy Westfield is protesting 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 regime.