All Charges Against the “Operation Three Years Jotna” Protesters Must be Dropped

By Bambo Jarsey

Shortly after I wrote my previous article on 10 May 2019, denouncing the illegal arrest of a group of peaceful protesters who were demanding that President Barrow respect the three-year term of the Coalition MOU, I learnt of a statement issued by the Minister of Interior, Ebrima Mballow, that the 8 women and 7 men will be charged for engaging in conduct that was conducive to a breach of the peace, or similar odious and repressive colonial-era criminal statute. This is shocking and constitutes a classic case of double jeopardy committed by the Gambia Government against innocent and law-abiding citizens. Double jeopardy because not only were the citizens unlawfully prevented from exercising their fundamental right to protest peacefully, but in addition, the Government now seeks to persecute (not prosecute) them for exercising a bona-fide constitutional right. The great rhetorical question of the day is “is this the Gambia we fought for in 2016?”

Let me restate again and for the avoidance of any doubt, that those who protested on 10 May did not break any law. Nothing in the Constitution of The Gambia (1997) requires that citizens must seek a permit from the police in order to stage a peaceful protest. The widely misunderstood Public Order Act, similarly does not place any such precondition except for the singular case in which people intend to use a public address system as part of their assembly. In the case of the “Operation Three Years Jotna” protest, these law-abiding citizens made sure they acted squarely within the confines of the law; they did not use a public address system, they were not violent, abusive, or intimidating to any one; and they certainly did not incite or attempt to incite any members of the public to commit a breach of the peace.

This Barrow Government must realize that the right to stage a peaceful protest is a fundamental human right that is accorded to every Gambian without distinction on the basis of race, religion, tribe, gender, or political affiliation. More importantly, the exercise of that right is completely unconditional and unfettered. The Constitution not only guarantees the right, it places upon the Government a positive obligation to ensure the observance and protection of the right by all Gambian citizens.

President Barrow and his band of law-enforcement appeasers must realize that The Gambia shall never again revert to a dictatorship. We Gambians will challenge them every step of the way as they endeavor to use and abuse our legal and judicial systems for their selfish political ends. Over 22 years, Yahya Jammeh bastardized our judicial institutions for political purposes; Judges and magistrates became extensions of the executive arm of Government. Mercenary judges and kangaroo courts were the order of the day. As a result, the public lost confidence in the courts as the last bastion of hope where the ordinary man and woman, be he/she a man of straw or of means large and small, could seek and receive justice and fairplay. For two decades, Jammeh denied us that basic right. Adama Barrow and his henchmen are picking up from exactly where Jammeh left off. From the unlawful dismissal of individuals deemed not to support the President’s agenda of self-perpetuation in Government, to the unlawful arrest of peaceful protestors, to indications of selective justice in favor of political sympathizers and family members, President Barrow has shown that he will not hesitate to politicize our legal and judicial processes for his political agenda.

It is my hope and prayer that under the leadership of Justice Hassan Jallow as Chief Justice, the judiciary will jealously guard its independence from arbitrary and capricious executive encroachment. Already, this Supreme Court’s decisions on the constitutionality of the Public Order Act in 2017, and the legality of the President’s action in dismissing Ya Kumba Jaiteh from the national assembly earlier this year, have raised serious concerns about the independence and impartiality of our newly Gambianised judiciary. The tendency towards “executive judgeship”, is the very antithesis of an independent and impartial judiciary. We hope that Justice Jallow and his team of Judges and Magistrates will rise above political partisanship and apply the law as it is, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, as required by the various oaths they subscribed to.

I say the above because as Interior Minister Mballow prepares to use the courts as an instrument of political repression in favor of his brother-in-law, Adama Barrow, the hope of ordinary Gambians is that there is still a modicum of credibility and integrity in our courts and that they will see the purported prosecution of the 10 May protesters as nothing other than a political project that must be nipped in the bud!! I call on Minister Mballow to abandon his reckless political instrumentalization of our law and courts, and drop all charges against the 10 May protesters. If he does not do so, I call on the Courts of law to err on the side of justice and the rule of law and dismiss the charges as lacking in merit, bogus, and an affront to the independence of the judiciary.

Integrity demands that politicians be held accountable for the promises they make to the electorate. Adama Barrow must be held accountable for his promises. Gambians shall NEVER AGAIN allow another clueless dictator to lord it over us. A luta continua!!!

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