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Gambian opposition figure dies in custody

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on 20 April 2016.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has learnt with utter dismay of the death in custody of Gambian opposition figure, Solo Sandeng, and the continuing repression of dissenting voices in the country.

Solo Sandeng was leading a demonstration against President Jammeh's dictatorship and demanding electoral reforms on April 14, 2016 in the outskirts of Gambian capital, Banjul. Sandeng together with more than 20 others were reportedly arrested by paramilitary personnel and taken to the infamous Mile II Prison. They were reportedly transferred to the headquarters of the notorious National Intelligent Agency where they were allegedly tortured. Sandeng reportedly went into coma and died on April 16.

The arrest of Sandeng and the others for a pro-democracy march was a violation of their right to freedom of assembly and expression which The Gambian constitution guarantees.

It is worrying to note that in spite of the mysterious death of Sandeng while in custody, the authorities have continued their ruthless crackdown on demonstrators. Senior members of the United Democratic Party (UDP), including the party's leader, Ousainou Darboe, have been arrested for organising a press conference to denounce the brutal crackdown by the security forces and demand the body of their colleague.

Since April 14, dozens have been arrested and severely beaten for exercising their right to assembly. This violent reaction to a simple demand for more civil liberties and electoral reforms is in breach of the Gambia's own constitutional guarantees as well as the regional and international human rights charters and conventions that The Gambia has ratified.

The repeated violations are also ample evidence that President Jammeh, who has been in power for almost 22 years, is resolved to hang on at all costs.

It is highly unacceptable that all the condemnations and appeals by the international community including the calls by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on The Gambian authorities to investigate the death of Sandeng and to release citizens who are currently being held in detention with serious injuries, have so far yielded nothing. Instead, the government's response has been to warn the international community to "desist from interfering in the internal domestic
affairs of the country."

We are saddened by this stance by the Gambian government and wish to call on the ECOWAS to put pressure on The Gambia to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Sandeng and inhumane treatment meted out to citizens who were calling for electoral reforms. We are also calling on the African Commission on Human and People's Rights which is headquartered in Banjul to independently investigate this matter and ensure that perpetrators of this crime are brought to book.

Under President Jammeh's rule, there have been several cases of systematic and gross human rights abuses with practically no sanctions from the ECOWAS and the AU; even though such violations breach many protocols and charters of the sub-regional and regional bodies. However, to ensure regional peace and the protection of the rights of citizens, ECOWAS and AU must enforce regional mechanisms and protocols on good governance, human rights and democracy. The two continental and sub-regional bodies must be seen to be acting in defence of citizens rather than of Heads of State. It is the only way the two bodies can gain the confidence of citizens and promote regional peace and stability. The MFWA therefore calls on the ECOWAS and AU to once and for all call President Jammeh to order.

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