Groups slam abuses, killings in Gambia
Dakar - Human rights groups have denounced a climate of fear in Gambia claiming disappearances, killings and torture go unpunished, as President Yayha Jammeh marks 17 years in power on Friday.
"President Jammeh marks July 22 each year as ‘Freedom Day’ and yet Gambia is ruled with an iron fist by a government that ruthlessly quashes all forms of dissent," said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director.
"Instead of celebrating ‘Freedom Day’, the Gambian authorities must act to end human rights abuses and the culture of fear."
Jammeh, a military officer and former wrestler, seized power in Gambia on July 22, 1994 in a bloodless coup, and the anniversary is typically feted with more pomp than independence day celebrations.
Rights groups are using the coup's anniversary to shine light on reports of abuses in Gambia, detailed in Amnesty's newly released "Climate of Fear Continues: Enforced disappearances, killings and torture in Gambia."
"Most victims of enforced disappearances in Gambia are journalists, opposition party members or security force personnel. Investigations by the authorities rarely take place and perpetrators are not brought to justice," a statement from Amnesty said.
On Tuesday three journalists and opposition party members living overseas, including former Gambia Press Union leader Ndey Tapha Sosseh, were charged in absentia with treason in connection with the distribution of T-shirts bearing the logo ‘End to Dictatorship in the Gambia’.
A forgone conclusion
Four others were previously arrested in June and remain in custody in Gambia where treason carries the death penalty.
"Amnesty International has also documented cases in which students, journalists and foreign nationals have been killed by security personnel."
The report cites an unnamed human rights defender who said unlawful killings "are seen as quickly getting rid of coup plotters and other perceived enemies, especially people whom the president feels have turned against him."
According to Amnesty, torture is also regularly used in Gambia to force confessions and to punish detainees.
A joint report by the World Organisation Against Torture and International Federation for Human Rights will be released in Dakar Friday, raising similar concerns over harassment of journalists and human rights activists.
In September 2009 the 46-year-old Jammeh threatened to kill those who attempted to "destabilise" the country by working with "so-called defenders of human rights".
Gambia, the smallest country on the African mainland, will hold elections on November 24 and Jammeh has said his victory is "a foregone conclusion" and only God can remove him from power.