opinionBy Lamin Sanyang
Brikama — It was a very shocking moment in the Gambia following the arrest of Halifa Sallah, one of the leading icons in the human rights struggle. He was a former member of the Pan-African parliament and the minority leader of the national assembly and is also a member of the editorial board of Foroyaa. He is currently the secretary general of People's Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism as well as the coordinator of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) and consequently its presidential candidate during the 2006 presidential elections.
The news of his arrest had been a shock to many in the country and abroad. The fact that he is held in detention, denied access to visitors and subjected to other forms of human rights violation is a gross disrespect and violation of the Constitution of the Gambia which the president swore to defend and uphold.
People have been arrested and thrown into jail without trial and subsequently released without compensation. Under certain circumstances top officials and civil servants are summarily dismissed from their positions without due regard to administrative procedures governing the civil service.
Many other people have been snatched away from their families at night at gun point, and some have disappeared.
From my point of view, the authorities want to score political points and make political gains. Why were they keeping the lap top? Did the security authorities want to use it to fish allegations against him. This must be the only plausible reason why Halifa indicated to the court that the state is engaged in a fishing expedition.
The most important thing that this government needs to know is that Halifa is not all alone in this matter. And that every fair minded Gambian irrespective of class, tribe or political affiliation abhors this cowardly and barbaric act of 'political bully-ism'. The Gambia is a very small country in which everyone has a close or distant relation around the country, be it a civil servant, security officer or military personnel.
It may be Alpha today. But tomorrow, it could be me or you, or anyone of us.
I am urging my fellow countrymen to stand up in solidarity with Halifa Sallah in denouncing and condemning this so-called hunt for witches and wizards, especially the atrocities committed against innocent and noble Gambians. The harassment and intimidation of our people by so-called hunters flanked by certain irresponsible so-called security personnel operating outside the law in The Gambia must be stopped immediately. The religion of Islam and Christianity condemn in no certain terms such unholy practices. It is against humanity as a whole. This must be stopped.
Where are all the so-called Gambian intellectuals? Where are all the religious scholars and imams? Where are all the human rights activists? It seems as if there are no intellectuals in this country but rather only paper tigers who are afraid of taking the bull by the horns. We have a tradition of mutual respect for culture and authority, but not an insulting authority that disgraces and humiliate people in the presence of their children for no reason. The fact of the matter is, this tradition of mutual respect must continue and the culture of fear must desist forthwith. And we need a leadership and authority that respects the rights of the citizens, not only the rights of those who have.
We should give solidarity to the victims of the so-called 'witchcraft hunting' all over the country. We should show solidarity with Halifa Sallah. We should let the government know that we don't like what is happening in the country. We want it to stop now.
I cannot understand the perception of people in this country. I am very disturbed by the way events are unfolding in this country. One may wonder what we are driving at. It is all selfishness. Many people only think of themselves and do not care about others. The desire for wealth has blinded them from the truth.
There are too many sycophants in the system. The regime has a whole lot of sycophant 'celebrities' that act as overseers. They will make that propaganda machine that Goebbels had, under Hitler, look like child's play.
The government should respect the rights of our people. There must be respect for human rights before any development could even take shape. Having a television station or university does not mean anything when the dignity and respect of the citizens are at stake and trampled upon. What is the point to have a TV station so long as our human rights are violated?
Halifa is a very respectful person not only in this country but in Africa and beyond. He is an asset to the liberation of Africa. This is a man that has inspired many Gambians. Halifa Sallah is a household name in the Gambia. Many Gambians have attained consciousness through his effort. He is always here when the people need him. I believe even the government should be grateful to him in many ways.
The fact that he did not win the last elections does not mean that he has become unpopular. I want the authorities to bear this in mind, especially the hierarchy. However, we may not agree with all his principles in solving the problems of the country but that goes with one single exception, every right thinking Gambian believes that Halifa is a man of truth. So let peace and justice prevail.