Gambia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that an act used by the former authoritarian ruler, Yahya Jammeh to jail opposition activists and restrict opposition gatherings is constitutional.
The Public Order Act is challenged by then-opposition leader and now Foreign Affairs Minister Ousainou Darboe, who was jailed last year for taking part in an unauthorized protest.
Darboe and his jailed colleagues challenged two sectors of the act, which they said violates the right to freedom of assembly in the Constitution.
Foreign Minister Darboe is also challenging his unlawful assembly conviction in the Supreme Court. He and many other opposition protesters that were given three-year sentences by Jammeh’s regime but were pardoned by President Adama Barrow.
Ousainou Darboe was among more than 20 people beaten and arrested by police during a protest against opposition protester Ebrima Solo Sandeng’s treatment.
Sandeng was taken to the headquarters of Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency and brutally beaten to death.
Forty-five opposition protesters were subsequently arrested by the police during a May 9 rally following Sandeng’s death and Darboe’s arrest.
In the aftermath of these protests, Jammeh repeatedly threatened opposition groups, which he called “evil vermin,” warning them: “If you want to destabilize this country, I will bury you nine-feet deep.”
Darboe and 43 others, including several other high-ranking UDP members, were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
Gambian authorities this month relied on the Public Order Act to deny a group of demonstrators, #OccupyWestfield a protest permit citing national security concerns.
The restrictions, Chief Justice Hassan B. Jallow said are reasonably justifiable in the Constitution, leaving it to the discretion of the country’s Inspector General of Police to grant permits in a time it will not disrupt public order or breach the peace.
Those that have been denied public gathering permits can still go to the High Court to challenge the Police Chief’s decision.
Demonstrators that were denied a permit earlier this month to occupy the Westfield Square have announced they would also be challenging the Public Order Act in the Supreme Court.
Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling could, however, deter the #OccupyWestfield Movement from filing fresh charges to rule the Public Order Act as unconstitutional.
Former President Yahya Jammeh used excessive force to quell protests. Security forces have killed at least 14 student protesters, opposition activists have disappeared and riot police used brutal force to arrest demonstrators.
The government of President Yahya Jammeh frequently committed serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture against those who voiced opposition to the government.
The repression and abuses created a climate of fear within Gambia, generating increased attention from the international community.
President Adama Barrow defeated former President Jammeh in last year’s election. Jammeh is now in exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Barrow’s government faces enormous challenges to rebuild the country’s broken economy and long-neglected institutions. Unlike Jammeh, Barrow pledged to ensure separation of power, guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary.