opinionBy Halifa Sallah
The rumours that are spreading regarding the personal security and wellbeing of Baba Leigh is raising the political temperature in the country as anxiety and disbelief emerge from even unexpected quarters. The very supporters of your party are outraged by rumours of torture and murder.
The family of Imam Baba Leigh is powerless to dispel the rumours since they do not have any privileged information regarding his whereabouts.
Despite my strong conviction that no one dares to murder Baba Leigh, I often have doubts why he is not released or at least allowed visits which is a right enjoyed by people remanded in custody to give effect to the principle of presumption of innocence. Imam Baba Leigh is not even enjoying the right of a prisoner remanded in custody pending his or her hearing, that is, the right to be visited by family members, receive food and clothes from them and acquire the counsel of a legal practitioner. Baba Leigh is held incommunicado and many rumours are spreading that, to say the least, are unsettling to the state of mind of his loved ones.
Mr President, your government has tried to distance itself from the murder of Deyda Hydara and the disappearance of Chief Manneh by conceding to external investigation. What image does it hope to give itself by ignoring all the national and international appeals for the release of Imam Baba Leigh?
It is becoming monotonous to repeat ad infinitum that you have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution without fear or favour, affection or ill will. This oath should censor your behaviour.
Imam Baba Leigh left with his car and was led to his place of detention. You may investigate where the car is parked and find out how it got there. This case cannot be a case of disappearance. It is easy to investigate and get to the truth of Imam Baba Leigh's arrest and detention. Since the NIA is directly under the office of the President, you should find out from them where Imam Baba Leigh's transport is parked and those who parked it there should explain to you where he is and why he has been detained for 25 days in gross violation of Section 19 of the Constitution which gives him the inviolable and inalienable right to see a legal counsel within three hours of detention and be released or taken before a court within 72 hours of detention. This is the dictate of the Constitution. Section 19 (2) reads:
"Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed as soon as is reasonably practicable and in any case within three hours, in a language that he or she can understands, of the reasons for his or her arrest or detention and of his or her right to consult a legal practitioner."
Furthermore, section 19(3) reads:
"Any person who is arrested or detained-
(a) for the purpose of bringing him or her before a court in execution of the order of a court, or
(b) upon reasonable suspicion of his or her having committed, or being about to commit, a criminal offence under the Laws of The Gambia, and who is not released, shall be brought without undue delay before a court and, in any event, within seventy-two hours."
Section 17 of the constitution obliges you and your agents to uphold Section 19, among other fundamental rights and freedoms. It reads:
"The fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in this Chapter shall be respected and upheld by all organs of the Executive and its agencies, the Legislature and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in The Gambia, and shall be enforceable by the Courts in accordance with this Constitution."
Mr President, It is incontrovertible that a democratic state should be a protector and not an oppressor of the citizenry. Every disregard of the dictates of the Constitution amounts to impunity. Impunity has no place in a constitutional order. It runs counter to the principles of the rule of law. It is true that the family could have gone and should go to the High Court for redress of unlawful detention beyond 72 hours without trial. The fact that they fear lengthening Imam Baba's detention if they take court action is instructive of the type of logic that impunity breeds.
To conclude, let me take this opportunity to reiterate that a government that cannot be criticised, scrutinised and restrained by its own citizens would end up ruling by coercion and oppression. Such a government would have lost its merit to be a government of a civilized and democratic people.
I therefore hope that you will intervene with immediacy to facilitate the release of Imam Baba Leigh and make a New Year Resolution to ensure that the government and its agents will adhere to the dictates of the Constitution and the standards of best practice in democratic governance.
While anticipating a favourable response
Yours in the service of the nation