An outspoken Gambian analyst who has been arrested by Gambian police for a reported attempt to “incite violence” said his detention was “politically motivated”.
Gambian authorities have come under huge criticism after the police arrested a university lecturer, Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, for saying that President Adama Barrow has failed to take the right steps to win the trust of the army after the fall of Yahya Jammeh.
Ceesay was arrested and charged with incitement of violence by the police serious crime unit on Wednesday but the charges were dropped on Thursday and released unconditionally.
“My arrest and detention is politically motivated. It has to do with recent remarks I made. One of my take was that Barrow lacks focus. That is, he is trying to focus on bringing in development that he cannot fulfill in a transition period. So he must set a target, a goal. That is why I said he needed a focus on what he could do,” Ceesay told The Torch after his release.
The police, however, denied his arrest had anything to do with politics though Ceesay said he was being told it was as a result of an “order from above”.
He also said he was interrogated by one ASP Darboe from the office of the president.
“… Comments he made had connection with intelligence that the police were looking into and needed clarification,” the police said referring to The Voice newspaper story also published by The Torch where the analyst commented on the security situation in the country.
“They said they were not happy with what I said in the interview; that it could jeopardize the security of the country. They asked if that was my intention. I told them it was not my intention. I told them I just gave an expert analysis on national issues. I say it as I see it. They insisted that my remarks were a threat a national security. So they detained me for 5 hours inside a cell and charged me with incitement of violence,” Ceesay said.
“We were in a dictatorship for 22 years. We fought to free ourselves. We thought this is new Gambia; that there will be freedom of speech. But they are setting a very bad precedent. This is not the first time. This is how Jammeh started.”
Shortly after Ceesay’s arrest, a number of university students, sympathizers and lecturers have announced they were boycotting all classes and converged at the police headquarters in Banjul.
The arrest of Ceesay has triggered a barrage of criticism from 27 Gambian right groups and political activists who said it is reminiscent of Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorship.
Madi Jobarteh, deputy executive director of the Association of Gambian NGOs, told The Torch that Ceesay’s arrest “is a clear infringement on the right to free speech and the ability of the citizens to hold the government to account”.
“I am gravely concerned by this arrest. It is a clear infringement on the right to free speech and the ability of the citizens to hold the government to account. What’s more concerning is that it is coming one year after we voted out dictatorship which was characterized by actions like this,” Jobarteh said.
Alieu Bah is an activist. He leads a movement called #OccupyWestfield. They wanted to protest some months ago but were stopped by the police.
And he told The Torch that what happened so far under Barrow administration suggests that freedom is still under attack.
“The first freedom that was attacked was the freedom of assembly. That was when we were stopped from holding a protest over the energy crisis. There’s a trend. It is frustrating that we continue to see this happening when it is the least expected from this government,” Bah told The Torch.
Meanwhile, the 27 civil society groups, NGOs and trade unions such as the Gambia Press Union have condemned Ceesay’s arrest in a statement issued on Thursday.
The rights groups demanded that the police make a public apology for their actions and said they are going to seek an audience with the police chief over the issue.
The ministry of communication issued a statement on Thursday evening reaffirming the commitment of the Gambia government in ensuring freedom of expression and protecting human rights.