The Gambia’s Democratic Space ‘Constricted, Restricted and Shrinking’ Ahead of 2016 Polls
Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS
BANJUL, Aug 28 2014 (IPS) – With the approach of the Gambia’s 2016 presidential elections, which will see President Yahya Jammeh seek re-election for a fifth, five-year tenure, more than a dozen opposition activists have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the past eight months.
The leader of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, told IPS, “the democratic space, instead of being expanded is constricted, restricted and shrinking.”
Just in the past eight months, 15 of Darboe’s party members have appeared before a court of law. Twelve members of the party’s youth wing were arrested in February for “an unlawful gathering” but where later acquitted by the court in March.
“The security forces have been scuttling our efforts by arresting my party supporters and I believe this is done with the full encouragement of the ruling party,” Darboe said.
Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the secretary general of youth wing of the UDP, was also acquitted in March on a charge of giving false information when obtaining a permit from the police to hold a social gathering for his party in Tujerang village, which lies some 40 km from Banjul. According to the state, Sandeng held a political rally instead of a social gathering. Before his acquittal, Sanneh was originally sentenced in December 2013 to five years in jail after initially being found guilty of sedition.
Lasana Jobarteh, an audio visual expert attending the event, was not as lucky. Jobarteh, 59, was charged with broadcasting without a license for providing live coverage of the UDP’s political gathering for online Gambian radio stations via skype. In July Jobarteh was found guilty and issued with a fine of 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars).
“I shocked by the judgment,” Darboe said of Jobarteh’s conviction.
“I don’t want to say more because we’ve filed an appeal. But I just have to repeat that I am thoroughly shocked. You don’t have to have any legal mind to know it’s not right. This is common sense.”
The case of Bai Mass Kah, from the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party, is the most recent one.
On Sept. 9 Kah will appear before a court in Banjul,