25 January 2013

Gambia: Minority Leader Against Others On EU Proposals

Following the president's rejection of the 17 proposals of the European Union for the Political Dialogue with the Government, a motion was tabled before the National Assembly on Monday, 21 January 2013 for the law makers to adopt the petition of the group of people who marched to the state house to present the same petition to the president rejecting the EU proposal. Civil servants, APRC National Assembly Members, Cabinet members and party stalwarts among others presented the petition in the name of the Gambian people as a whole.

During the contribution of the National Assembly Members to the resolution presented to them for debate by the Speaker, Hon. Abdoulie Bojang, the Minority Leader and Member for Niamina Dankunku, Hon. Samba Jallow urged the government to be circumspect in its approach to the EU Political Dialogue as these are issues that emanate from concerns of the people in the Gambia.

He expressed his objection to the claim that the issues in EU/Gambia proposals is not emanating from the Gambian people. "If you look at what the EU is saying it is all happening in the country", asserted Hon. Jallow, Minority Leader and NAM for Niamina Dankunku.

The Minority Leader argued that the members of the ruling Party are missing the point as the EU proposals has nothing to do with interference by outside powers in our internal affairs. He reminded them about his comments during the last adjournment debate. He said he cannot agree that the proposals are emanating from somebody who wants to interfere with the affairs of the country. He argued that all the points stated on the proposal are something happening in the country.

Hon. Jallow quoted from the introduction of the EU's 17 point proposals. He said that the EU has written why the need to raise such issues for the political dialogue. He said that the EU is concerned with the deterioration of the human Rights situation in the country notably, the closure of media houses, arbitrary arrest, and detention without trial and execution of death row prisoners among others. He argued that the statements on the proposals are problems happening in the country whether they like it or not. He condemned the detaining of people for more than 72 hours as it is against the law.

On the issue of freedom of the Media Hon. Samba Jallow said the EU asks that the Government confirms its commitment to allow the free operation of independent media in The Gambia. This should reassure media stakeholders that as long as the media adheres to the laws of the Gambia, the Government guarantees that they will not be arbitrarily closed and that any closure will be notified by court order as required by law. He concurred that the proposed time frame for action is one month. He concurred with this point

The minority leader quoted Section 207 of the Constitution. He emphasised that the EU proposal is just calling for the freedom of the media in the Gambia.

He said the EU asks the following:

(i) A removal of restrictions on accessing and sharing information electronically which should translate in the unblocking of online media. He said the time frame is one month.

(ii) A revision of the provisions in the Criminal Code that allow for prosecution on charges of "sedition, libel, false publication or false information to a public servant", and which impose prison terms and/or high fines. E said the time frame proposed is six months.

(iii) Revision of laws on freedom of expression and media regulation, such as those laid down in "Article 19" report. "The Gambia: analysis of selected laws on media -- overview" (April 2012 - prepared in the framework of the EU/The Gambia NSA program and provided to Government during last Article 8 meeting June 2012). He said the proposed time frame is 24 months.

"The Criminal Code mentioned, I feel the EU is calling for us to decriminalize it" and handle the media on the basis of civil suit which I feel is right", he pointed out

On the issue of the death penalty the minority leader said the EU proposes for the following actions to be undertaken:

- That the Government maintains the reinstated de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty .The proposed time frame for this is immediate

- That the Government provides information regarding the recent executions, including the location of the place of burial to the families of the victims, in line with Article 7 of the ICCPR.

- That a full and transparent review of the death penalty by the National Assembly, including clarity on the method of execution takes place as required by the Gambian Constitution (Section 18 (3).The proposed timeframe for this is 12 months

Depending on the review by the National Assembly, propose to introduce a de jure moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

The EU asks that Government concludes Moratorium of Understanding with the ICRC TO ALLOW FOR ICRC access to prison facilities on a regular basis, and for these visits to take place according to ICRC standards.

The Minority Leader in his comment on the execution of 9 death row prisoners quoted the laws of the Gambia. He argued that the penalty only stop at executing the offenders as the authorities has no right to keep the bodies. He argued that the bodies should be given back to families to perform the Muslim burial for them.

On the issue of the Prisons the Minority leader said the EU proposes for The Government, in partnership with the ICRC, should present costed proposals to improve prison/detention facility conditions, to be brought further into line with international standards, and budget accordingly.

The NAM for Niamina Dankunku calls on parliamentarians to look at things in both aspects. He said all the terms and timeline are mere proposals. He calls for diplomacy and maturity in resolving the issue. He asserted that the EU has made the proposal and what is expected of them is to sit with the EU to discuss.

"Let us not forget that the EU is our long time partners in development", he pointed out.

Hon. Jallow mentioned about the million dollar projects in agriculture funded by the EU which he said cannot be called 'chicken change'. He mentioned the funding of various road projects which he said the government used to boost. He said they cannot deny they are benefiting from the relationship.

"The recent demonstration or 'solidarity march' reminds me of the student demonstration when people were shot and killed by the authorities. Two journalists were detained for applying a permit to organize peaceful demonstration. Why it is that all the time members of the ruling party are allowed holding demonstration and others are denied", asserted the Minority Leader.

Hon. Jallow condemned the unfairness of the authorities for allowing the supporters of the ruling party to hold rallies and demonstrations while denying the opposition. He questioned the moral justification of the Gambian authorities in suppressing the opposition. He challenge them to respect the constitutional rights of the opposition to hold rallies and demonstrations if they want it.

The Minority Leader quoted section 207 of the 1997 constitution about the freedom and independence of the media. He argued that the ruling party may boost about the numerous radio stations in the country but cannot deny its ineffectiveness. He argued that most of the radios are meant for only music without broadcasting the concerns of the people.

"Although, I cannot concord with the free registration of the media because we are a tax base economy, he disclosed.

The Niamina Dankunku NAM mentioned about the closure of Taranga FM radio and other media houses in the country. He mentioned about the detention without trial which he said totally against the laws of the country. He argued that the families of the 9 executed prisoners deserve the right to know where their love ones were buried.

When each of the APRC NAMs took the floor, they expressed their support to the president of the republic by adopting the petition submitted by the marchers in Banjul against the European Union's proposals for political dialogue with the Gambian authorities.

"We are very angry about these things. People who support them should not be given space in this country", said Hon. Bintanding Jarjue, NAM for Foni Berefet.

The Foni Berefet NAM has labeled all Gambians in partnership with EU as ungrateful citizens. She stressed that the women of the country would never forgive such persons. She said they did not want to see their children in refugee camps.

"When people are talking about development others are talking about confusion", she said.

Hon. Jarjue admitted that she was confused when she heard about these things. She said she thought the country has lost its independence. She argued that people should differentiate between political journalism and professional journalism.

"We have elected a professor of all professors for peace. We are fully behind president Jammeh", she said.

Hon. Abdoulie Saine, NAM for Banjul Central, who was reading from a text, said since the disapproval of EU demands by the cabinet a great debate rose in his constituency. He expressed his loyalty and support to president Jammeh and condemned the EU proposals as baseless. The Banjul Central NAM has quizzed the morality of EU and United States for dictating the government. He accused them of sanctioning the country in 1994. He claimed that the country has developed all these years without them.

"Down with the EU, down with the United States and down with the UNDP hypocrites!" he shouted out.

At this juncture, there was murmuring and laughter at the legislative chambers showing appreciation to the remarks made by the member for Banjul Central.

The NAM for Kiang Central calls for constructive dialogue under the atmosphere of mutual respect. He claimed that the EU demands are bent on undermining the peace and security of the country. He reaffirmed his support and commended president Jammeh.

"We are fully behind President Jammeh in whatever he said or do. He was the one who save this country in 1994", said Hon. Misba Hydara, NAM for Lower Niumi.

Hon. Hydara pointed that the infrastructural development of the country is enough for them to support the president in whatever he do or wishes.

Hon. Baboucarr Nyang, NAM for Banjul South, condemned the 17 points proposals of the European Union. He referred to the proposals as direct interference which, he said, all genuine Pan-Africanists should condemn.

"The 17 points of EU is ultra vires", said Hon. Alagie Sillah, NAM for Banjul North.

The Banjul North NAM expressed his disapproval to the free registration of media in the country. He condemned homosexuals and lesbians as it would bring suffering to the people. He claimed the suffering could come in the form of sickness or other punishments.

"We have 28 radio stations and 16 print media in the country. The closure of one radio station is insignificant", said Hon. Babou Gaye Sonko, nominated member.

At this stage, he turned round and told the members of the press who were present that he will provide them with further information on this issue regarding the number of media houses operating in the country.

The nominated member said he was speaking on behalf of the youth of the country. He said the entire youth folk have condemned the EU 17 points. He said even the baboons would not accept the points much more human beings.

However, Hon. Netty Baldeh, NAM for Tumana and Permanent Representative at the AU Parliament, called the EU demands as disrespectful. He quoted the EU Article on sexual orientation concerning homosexuals and lesbians which, he said, would not happen here. He claimed Europe is facing problems of the same sex marriages.

"We will communicate to them through the right channel. We will let the people to know what they are doing", he disclosed.

The NAM for Tumana said the president has the mandate to sign the death warrant and determines the place of execution. He said the law does not say the president should hand over the death bodies to families.

"All what you said was supported by all members except the Minority Leader who was in opposition", Speaker Bojang told the Majority Leader.

Meanwhile, Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Majority Leader and member for Serrekunda East said the Minority Leader was wrongly informed. He accused him of quoting the opposition PDOIS party's circulated material. He touched on the contradictory comments of the Minority Leader and NAM for Niamina Dankunku. Hon. Jatta said they did not deny the EU is helping but the approach taken was wrong.

Hon. Jatta earlier mentioned about the concerns expressed by the EU in the Human Rights issues of the country. He mentioned about the closure of media houses, execution of 9 death row prisoners among others. He questioned the reason why this is so peculiar to Gambian people.

The Majority Leader argued that most of the proposals made by the European Union are already in the constitution. He mentioned the issue of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. He also argued that the president has the mandate to determine the place of burial of those executed by the death penalty.

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