By Bakary Ceesay
The Gambia civil society organizations (CSOs) have jointly condemned the arrest of a human rights activist Madi Jobarteh and warned the government to desist from applying all forms of draconian laws inherited from the previous repressive regime.
Jobarteh was arrested by the police on Tuesday and charged with false publication and broadcasting. His arrest came on the heels of his media comment for faulting the police for their failure to investigate the killings of Haruna Jatta, Ousman Darboe and Kebba Secka.
The Association of the Non-Governmental Organization of The Gambia (TANGO) has gathered its member groups including the Action Aid International, Gambia Press Union, Victims Centre, Beakanyang, etc. to release their message to the president.
“Barrow needs to listen to ordinary people. The politicians and not telling him the truth. The civil servants are not telling him the truth. So, he needs to listen to ordinary Gambians…” the executive director of TANGO, Ousman Yabo.
According to him, the president has failed in his promises he made before the international community and the Gambian people regarding his stance for total respect for democracy, rule of law and guaranteeing freedom of expression and ending unlawful arrests. “Unfortunately, never again is here to stay.”
Sheriff Kijera, Chairman of the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations stressed that Madi Jobarteh has expressed an opinion and the state should only counter it if it is dissatisfied.
“What we are seeing in our current dispensation is so disturbing and disappointing. This victims centre is very concerned,” he said.
“What happened to Madi is the same old tactics of former president Yahya Jammeh to silence the critics to germinate and cement the dictatorship.”
He stressed that the police are not learning lessons from the past, arguing that the nation’s reform agenda including the Security Sector Reform is not making any meaningful changes.
Kijera also warned the government to desist from making any attempt to stifle free speech as it will not achieve any plan of playing tactics of silencing the citizens.
The civil society organizations in The Gambia hold meeting over Madi’s arrest“What happened to Madi is not an isolation. It has been building up. You go to all these government departments and they tell you how dangerous Madi is. That shows that it has been building up. This is a test. It is a rehearsal and we should send a signal loud and clear that this is not going to be condoned.
“This is the only way we can stop this thing from happening to everybody. We will stand with Madi, we will stand with anybody whose freedom of expression has been curtailed, or has been taken away and we want to make this loud and clear.”
He urged journalists to stand with their sources at all times. He stressed that as they turn against the sources, the next victims could be those providing them with the platforms to express themselves.
John Charles Njie, Chairperson of TANGO, said the hope in the Barrow government is dissipating at an alarming pace to all and sundry.
“Madi is charged with the same law that was designed under the previous government to muscle the dissents.”
He said the country has decided not to go back into the dictatorship as “we will not be silent and we can’t be silent. We are confident that Mr Jobarteh’s comment in the media falls within his constitutional and human rights.”
He stated that the civil society will not accept the police action against Madi.
“This has brought back old memories. The freedom of expression is the cornerstone of our democracy. The state as our protector should not use draconian laws inherited by dictatorship to prosecute Madi Jobarteh. The action of the police constitutes blatant abuse of power. Today, we say enough is enough…”
Among the seven-points demand directed to the state for action, the CSOs called on the state to ‘drop all charges against Mr. Madi Jobarteh and offer an unconditional apology to him.
Other points include urging the government to “refrain from ‘inviting’ citizens to question them about their opinions or remarks so long as those opinions do not constitute incitement of violence and hate speech.
“Ensure that the police always act within the law and with professionalism when dealing with citizens and non-citizens in the country,
“A repeal of all the repressive and repugnant laws that negate and dilute the enjoyment of the fundamental rights guaranteed under our constitution;
“Desist from using the same Yahya Jammeh era repressive laws to stifle freedom of expression and association or media freedom;
“Demonstrate transparency and accountability by informing the general public about the state of affairs into the investigation of the murder of Haruna Jatta and Ousman Darboe and trial of suspects in the murder of Kebba Secka among other cases of concern.”