Fifty-five Gambia UDP opposition members arrested in government crackdown, says party executive
Issued on: Modified:
Some 55 members of the United Democratic Party have been arrested during peaceful demonstrations, including leader Ousainou Darboe, UDP Deputy Administrative Secretary Alhaji Darboe told RFI.
The party has 25 names of people who were arrested on Thursday while calling for electoral reforms, and another 30 who went out on the streets of Serrekunda, near Banjul, the capital, on Saturday after news that veteran UDP executive member Solo Sandeng was killed in custody, said secretary Darboe.
Darboe spoke to RFI on Monday from inside Ousainou Darboe’s house, where party members were present to show their solidarity with the leader’s family and their party while the UDP leader is in jail.
“Outside the compound, we have security persons on both sides of the highway, at about 100 meters, both sides,” he said. “There are security in government uniforms, the national army, and then the police”.
The UN has condemned this latest crackdown on the Gambian opposition after it confirmed that Sandeng and two other UDP members died in custody.
UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon “calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested, including UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, and uphold the rights of the Gambian people to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” according a statement released on Sunday.
“Sandeng’s senseless death in custody appears to be the latest in a long line of abuses against the political opposition in Gambia,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch in a statement released on Monday.
Opposition leaders are demanding electoral reform ahead of December elections.
“This case heightens concerns that the Gambian government will intensify its crackdown on independent voices ahead of elections in December,” added HRW’s Dufka in the statement.
RFI contacted Gambian Information Minister, Sherrif Bojang, who initially agreed to speak on the matter, but was unavailable later in the day.
Other political groups told RFI that they are meeting to decide what to do regarding the demonstrations. The National Reconciliation Party, the only opposition party with representation in Gambian parliament, is meeting Monday evening to decide if they are going to join the protest.
“We are aware of the frustration of the UDP,” said Hamet Bah, the leader of the NRP in Banjul.
“It was their right to be in the streets to demonstrate. It was wrong to arrest any one of them while they were carrying out what I consider to be a legitimate right,” he added.
The large Gambian diaspora has made efforts to help those on the ground, including ‘naming and shaming’ the paramilitary groups who are allegedly torturing people.
“They have first-hand information on the Black-Black boys as they call them, or the Jugulars. These are the people who do all the torturing,” said Sidi Sanneh, a former Gambian civil servant in exile who blogs on politics from Virginia, US.
“They have taken their photographs and they have put it on social media, identifying them by name,” he said, adding that on Monday, his contacts said that a number of them were back out on the street with masks on.
“Gambian people have had enough, really. They have been under tremendous pressure for the last 22 years,” said Sanneh.
“There is extensive use of torture by this regime. Jammeh has convinced himself that this is the only way he can retain power,” he added.
As of press time, neither ECOWAS nor the African Union have commented on the government crackdown, but Sanneh believes ECOWAS, under the current leadership of Senegal’s President Macky Sall, will be speaking on this shortly.
“Any instability in the Gambia is going to severely impact Senegal’s own security,” said Sanneh.
For now, Gambia’s opposition is regrouping. Sanneh believes that a number of protest movements could come out of this, because Gambians want President Yahya Jammeh to go due to the mismanaged economy and ongoing human rights abuses.
“I know the general public is aggrieved. They are angered and there is so much concern. That is what is actually prevailing at every corner of the Gambia,” said Darboe, the UDP official.