A request for a permit is a restriction of the right to protest hence a limitation to democracy, Gambian civil society leader Madi Jobarteh said, following the Supreme Courts decision upholding a law that sent opposition leaders to prison.
Justices of the court threw out a challenge to the Public Order Act by the country’s former opposition leader and now Minister of Foreign Affairs Ousainou Darboe, who was seeking for the court to rule that law that used to jail him as unconstitutional.
“This decision by the Supreme Court is, therefore, a terrible setback and disgrace for the Gambia, especially given the current trends within the sub-region and Africa and the world at large,” Jobarteh said.
The Court left the decision to grant or deny protesters permit to the country’s police chief, who had last month denied a protest movement permit to occupy a square outside the capital, twice.
Pro-democracy defenders said the repeated denial of a permit to the #OccupyWestfield Movement was a sharp reminder of restrictions to freedom that was a hallmark of the oppressive regime of the former president, Yahya Jammeh.
“If the justices of the Supreme Court had paid enough attention to the limitations imposed by the Constitution, then they would have realized that there is no more any need to give extra powers to the state to impose extra limitations,” Jobarteh said.
“This creates a double layer of limitations for which the end result can only be a violation of the right to protest and consequently of the constitution.”
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. It is yet to be determined if activists will be a new challenge to the law in court.
Former President Yahya Jammeh used the law and 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.