Gambia: Bar Association Concerned With Government's Response Over Recent Civil Unrest

The Gambia Bar Association has issued a Statement to express concern about the decision of the Executive which was communicated on Sunday January 26th 2020, in response to the civil unrest that ensued from the "3yrs Jotna" protests scheduled on the same date.

According to the statement, the Bar Association together with Civil Society Partners has closely followed events at Sting Corner and environs.

"It is regrettable that the proposed march did not end peacefully and resulted in violence," the Statement indicated; that as a Bar Association, they have reiterated the constitutional rights of citizens to peacefully assembly as guaranteed by Section 25 (d) of 1997 Constitution.

The Statement continued:

"We urge citizens to exercise their fundamental rights peacefully and within the ambit of the applicable laws. We are gravely concerned by Government's pronouncement purportedly proscribing the '3yrs Jotna' Movement and seeking to penalize any third party including the media from having any dealings or business with the movement.

"The Government of the Gambia is hereby reminded that all Gambians are entitled to enjoy their rights to fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience and belief as well as freedom of association which includes the freedom to form and join associations. These are fundamental rights guaranteed under our Constitution. Furthermore, there is no requirement to register as an association or legal entity to enjoy the protection of the supreme law of the land.

"Further, the purported suspension of the operations of Home Digital FM and King FM as well as the arrest of their proprietor and manager respectively, is a troubling development. It is our view that the arbitrary suspension of the operations of these two broadcasters by Law enforcement officers is not in accordance with the law and a very bad precedent for press freedom. The use of law enforcement to suppress the operations of media operators is a stain on our nascent democracy and an affront to a free press. The operations of radio stations is governed and regulated by Law. We therefore expect that any suspension of the operations of radio broadcasters would be in accordance with the dictates of the applicable Law. As a country that promotes the Rule of Law as a pillar of its development strategy, we expect that this type of conduct as a thing of the past. The Bar Association supports an independent, non-partisan and professional press fittingly called the fourth estate in our governance and accountability landscape, as we seek to consolidate our democratic gains."

"Whilst the Bar recognizes the role of the Gambia Police Force in the maintenance of law and order, we strongly reiterate the need for restraint, as well as the legitimate and proportionate use of force to manage protests. We have credible reports of civilians including women being subjected to disproportionate use of force by the Police. The heavy handed use of force by the Police is a serious cause for concern. This is unacceptable and regressive and unbecoming of a professional security force which will only further undermine the citizen's trust and confidence in the Police. We expect our law enforcement officers in keeping the peace and maintaining order to do so within the limits of law. Our law enforcement officers must rise up to the challenge of discharging their duty."

"Whilst respecting the fundamental rights of the citizenry, it is reported that over 137 people have been arrested and in detention without access to their family members and/or accorded the right to legal advice as provided by the Constitution. We call on the Police to accord all detainees their constitutionally guaranteed rights."

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