Gambia’s President Adama Barrow said the police have the right to use the entire 72 hour period to detain citizens over national security concerns.
“I think it is the right of the police to question anybody if it is within the law. They have 72 hours to question anybody to find out what is the information all about as far as you are talking about security. I think this is within the law,” he said.
Gambian authorities arrested a political science lecturer, Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, sparking fears of repression and curbing of freedom of expression. Ceesay expressed an opinion on national security issues just a few days after criticizing Mr. Barrow.
Barrow said the country is yet to be fully stabilized and some comments, although coming from experts or academicians, could jeopardize the security and stability of the small nation of fewer than two million people.
Gambia’s police have used national security as a premise to detain opposition activists and those critical to the ousted autocratic regime of the former dictator, Yahya Jammeh.
National security had been used by Jammeh’s regime to carry out extra-judicial executions, prolonged detentions and torture. An indemnity act, protecting security forces remains in place a year after Jammeh’s departure.
According to activists, Barrow’s urging of the police to question and detain those expressing opinion over security matters in the country could be a license for authorities to act with impunity and abuse the time period allowed by law to intimidate rights defenders and political opponents.
But Barrow says “nobody is above law” and pledged asserted that his governments “want to work within the law.” He, however, insists that “the police can question anyone at least for a duration of 72 hours.”
A secret unit of the police intervention department, operating as the State House Intelligence Unit was behind Ceesay’s arrest. Although a government official said Mr. Barrow was not aware of Ceesay’s arrest, Barrow’s comments to TRT World indicates he approved of the decision to have him arrested over his comments.