By Bakary Ceesay
The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights has called on The Gambia Government to revoke the Public Order Act, which has often been used to restrict the rights to peaceful assembly.
“Public Order laws are being used to curtail the rights of persons to freedom of assembly in states such as The Gambia and Sierra Leone among others,” said Oludayo Faghemi, IHRDA legal officer in a joint statement endorsed by the two institutions and delivered at the ongoing 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACPHR).
Although Gambians have been enjoying greater freedom under the new administration, campaigners continue to call out for the revocation of the Public Order Act.
The Public Order Act contains provisions that necessitate the grant of permission by state agents before protests or demonstrations can take place and demonstrations that take place without this permission are deemed illegal, and can be dispersed, in most cases, with the use of excessive force.
Fabakary B. Ceesay, the focal person for the West African Human Rights Defenders Network, warned against threats made by former Interior Minister Ebrima Mballow and a presidential adviser at a political rally in Brikama to quell possible protests that are reportedly scheduled to take place in December, demanding President Barrow respect his promise to step down after three years.
Mr Ceesay called on the Gambian authorities to comply with the guidelines on freedom of association and assembly by opening the civic space for freedom and peaceful demonstration.
Kodou Njie, senior assistant secretary at the Ministry for the Interior, said the country’s laws guarantee the right to protest subject to acquiring a permit from the Office of the Inspector General of Police. She contended that citizens have the right to seek redress in courts when they are denied permit.
“The Gambia is on a healing process, and the police do deny permit based on security reasons. But the majority of requests by political parties for demonstrations are granted,” she said.