14 February 2013

Gambia: Human Rights Defenders Intensify Calls for Imam Baba Leigh's Release

More than two months after his arrest, the whereabouts of human rights defender and religious leader Imam Baba Leigh continues to remain unknown. Imam Baba Leigh was taken from his home on 3 December 2012 by two men believed to be part of the Gambia's National Intelligence Agency. Imam Baba Leigh is a religious leader and an active human rights defender. He serves as a religious advisor for The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP),

an organisation working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women and children, and is among the organisation's founding members. He is known as an outspoken campaigner who has aptly used his religious status to advocate for human rights and social reform.

On the evening of 3 December 2012, two plain-clothed men claiming to work for the Gambia's National Intelligence Agency (NIA) showed up at the residence of Imam Baba Leigh. The two men introduced themselves as Susso and Saidykhan. They ordered the human rights defender to go with them in a NIA vehicle. Close associates of Imam Baba Leigh reported that he called them moments after he was ordered to board the vehicle to let them know that he was being taken to the NIA headquarters.

Prior to this incident, Imam Baba Leigh had reportedly complained of receiving intimidating and anonymous telephone calls during the night. The threats followed Imam Baba Leigh's public condemnation, through sermons and in writing, of a decision by Gambia's authorities to execute a number of prisoners on death row. At least nine inmates were executed in August 2012, days after President Yaya Jammeh had stated his intent to "clear death row." Many in the Gambian civil society see a direct link between Imam Baba Leigh's public stance on the executions and the threats he received as well as his disappearance.

Efforts by family and colleagues to obtain information on the whereabouts of Imam Baba Leigh have been unsuccessful. His colleagues at GAMCOTRAP visited the NIA headquarters to seek information but the human rights defender's location was not disclosed by officials. Fears have been expressed that Imam Baba Leigh may have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in incommunicado detention.

Front Line Defenders expresses serious concern for the physical and psychological integrity of Imam Baba Leigh, given his enforced disappearance and reports of a risk of torture and ill-treatment. It is believed that Imam Leigh has been targeted solely because of his peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of human rights in the Gambia.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in the Gambia to:

1. Disclose the whereabouts of human rights defender Imam Baba Leigh; ensure his immediate and unconditional release, and immediate access to a lawyer and family members, as Front Line Defenders believes that he has been forcibly disappeared solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful human rights work;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Imam Baba Leigh while in detention, in accordance with international standards related to the treatment of detained persons, as outlined, inter alia, in the "Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted by United Nations General Assembly resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1990";

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Gambia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

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