Gambian authorities must release peaceful protesters and community members, including a man in his 70s, who were arbitrarily arrested and detained last week, said Amnesty International today. At least 40 people were arrested by police during and after a largely peaceful protest by young people and community members in the town of Kartong on Sunday 22 November 2015. The protest, against sand mining in the area, was largely peaceful although witnesses have reported that the situation between some of the protestors and the security forces appeared tense at times.
“A blanket crackdown on protestors is not acceptable. The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must not be unduly curtailed because of the suspected unlawful behaviour of some individual,” said Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.
“The police should not arrest people on an arbitrary basis and criminal charges should only be brought against those against whom there is clear evidence.”
Amnesty International has spoken to community members and witnesses who report that police arrested people in a blanket fashion. Some of the people arrested were either peacefully protesting or not involved in the protest at all. Those arrested include a man in his seventies who is said to be in poor health. Police also arrested family members of at least one activist, although the family members were not involved in the protest.
Witness reports indicate that the police used excessive force during the arrests and some people were injured.
On 24 November, 33 of those arrested were charged with conspiracy, breach of the peace, riot, causing malicious injuries and riotously interfering with a vehicle. They were denied bail and are currently awaiting trial in the country’s biggest prison, Mile 2. Family members were not permitted to visit the detainees.
Amnesty International spoke to a local activist and a community member who fear further arrests and reprisals against activists who have voiced concerns at the harmful impact of sand mining on their environment and community.
Amnesty International is calling on authorities in Gambia to immediately and unconditionally release those detained solely because of their participation in a peaceful protest, or those detained on an arbitrary basis.
The authorities should also promptly look into the concerns expressed by the community about the negative impacts of sand mining and take action to ensure human rights are respected and protected in the context of mining activity.
“Those arrested and detained in connection with a criminal offence should have a fair trial and must have their rights in detention upheld. This includes access to their lawyers, families and medical treatment, and the opportunity to challenge their pre-trial detention” said Sabrina Mahtani.
“Any charges should be proportionate and people should not be charged with more serious crimes simply because they were taking part in a protest,” said Sabrina Mahtani.