The “Occupy Westfield” Sunday protest against Gambia’s energy company—the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) is not going ahead, as the police have denied permit to the organizers of the event, ASP police spokesman Foday Conta told Freedom Radio Gambia in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “The Occupy Westfield group has been denied permit to hold the protest on Sunday. The permit denial had to do with security concerns regarding the event. The police deemed it imperative not to issue permit at this time to the organizers of the event. We sat with them and we explained the reason behind the denial,” said Mr. Conta.
Occupy Westfield is a group of concerned Gambians, who are dissatisfied with NAWEC’s service delivery system. They want to vent their anger at the recent power outages and water shortages in the country.
The venue for the planned protest Westfield, is situated in the heart of Serre-kunda. The police spokesman said the planned protest coincides with sports finals scheduled to be held at the independence stadium on the same date.
“ Westfield is where everyone gathers. It is a very busy intersection. We do not want traffic to be obstructed or slowed down. In as much as the constitution guarantees the right to peaceful protest and assembly, the security of the country is paramount. In view of the prevailing security concerns about the event, the police have decided to deny permit to the organizers of the protest,” he added.
Social media was bombarded with messages from supporters of the planned protest; condemning the decision of the police to deny permit to the Occupy Westfield folks. Some even said they regretted why they voted for the Barrow coalition government—citing what they called the unconstitutional measures taken by the police to deny permit to the Occupy Westfield group.
Police spokesman Foday Conta disagrees with the police critics. He said the police is merely performing its required constitutional mandate by keeping Gambians safe and secure.
“People are free to say whatever they want to say. But keep in mind that we cannot substitute security with anything. There is no guarantee that the organizers of the event can restraint the people attending the event. The permit denial has nothing to do with denying them their rights,” Conta said.
Mr. Conta said there is a stack difference between the recently convened UDP and APRC rallies held in the municipality. He said the two are organized political parties with leadership hierarchy, but with that of Occupy Westfield group, is the opposite.
“I am convinced that the protest will not go ahead. There is no indication to suggest that they will hold the protest. But if they do, they will be violating the law. Any procession held on Sunday, could be viewed as an unlawful assembly,” he warned.
Mr. Conta called on the members of the public to be law abiding, and jealously safeguard the country’s cherished peace. He said the police’s job is protect life and property and not to deny citizens their rights.