Activists say Sabally’s ordeal is Jammeh-style

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By Omar Bah

Political and human rights activists have called on President Barrow to avoid Jammeh’s style of arresting critics or being vindictive against opponents. 

One of them, US-based activist Pa Samba Jaw, advised the government to stop the “undemocratic and vindictive practice” of arresting opponents on the ridiculous guise of calling them for questioning as it was in the case of Momodou Sabally. “This is the style of former dictator Jammeh. If Gambians wanted their rights to be abrogated, they would stay with Yahya Jammeh. So, our change was not just for its sake, it was meant to have a total departure from Jammeh’s tyrannical ways to a Gambia of liberty and freedom for all,” Jaw said.

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He added: “First, Momodou Sabally should not have been arrested in the first place. His arrest was for nothing, but to muzzle him. It was vindictive and unjust. Releasing him unconditionally after detaining him for about ten days without any explanation is ludicrous. No serious government, especially one that wants to transform this country into a heaven of democracy, will engage in such blatant abuse of a citizen’s rights.

“To add insult to injury, this government reverted to the Jammeh playbook by using the Supreme Islamic Council to ‘negotiate’ his release. Begging the question, when did the SIC become responsible for justice in The Gambia? Human and Constitutional Rights are inalienable and therefore non-negotiable. No Gambian must be forced to negotiate for his or her rights. We must be proactive in our denunciation of all abrogation of rights, this is the only way that we can ensure that government excesses are properly checked. We the citizens must be the guard and fences of each other’s rights. Injustice against one must be seen as injustice against all,” he added.

Also commenting, human rights activist, Jeggan Grey-Johnson, said: “I am not sure how this will play out, but the plot has zero credibility. But this is also a major test for the media, CSOs, political opposition and the citizenry to speak up and ask questions – whatever is left of democratic principles must now be protected. Sabally and others are but a very small piece of this puzzle. Sadly, none will step up to rise to this historic occasion. We have from day one – when Jammeh left- abdicated our civic duty for change.”

For his part, Lamin Keita, a PhD fellow and political analyst, said: “Momodou Sabally’s arrest illustrates that the government can target individual critics wherever it is fitting to suit its political whims and caprices. However, such a political expedient and ploy is checked by the noise either from the UDP party militants or social movement groups in the country.

“The people of the Gambia learned their lessons from the previous Jammeh regime and being silent about unjustified arrests and abuse of power could be consequential for all citizens. Therefore, citizens advocating for Sabally show that they are opposed to the state actions   which are antithetical to our new found democracy. They knew that sitting on the fence while the government focuses on targeting individuals and abusing them endow fundamental rights will in turn hunt them in one way or the other.”

He said the Barrow government should know that those eras are over where “you can blatantly infringe on the rights of citizens”.

“Again, the country’s opposition should reorganize themselves on a democratic mantra that will unite the majority of the Gambians and advocate for a collective national internet. Our opposition parties have more work to do than they think. Merely pulling a crowd   or crowd sourcing is not a modern-day politics to win a governing state. History has proven us wrong and we should rethink the way we confront and approach a sitting government. Typically, oppositions need a new model and that model should be based on the theory of pragmatism, honesty, building a legacy of integrity, and love for one’s country,” he stressed.

The National Assembly member for Serekunda West, Madi Ceesay, said the government’s deliberate decision to keep Sabally in detention beyond 72 hours is a bad sign for them and the country’s democracy. “The best thing they should do is to release him after three days, especially after realising that they could not find anything against him. So, that is why I believe there were executive interferers because the police alone would have no interest to keep any Gambian beyond 72 hours knowing very well that they have no evidence against. I am very disappointed by the Barrow government for disregarding the rule of law,” Ceesay noted.

He said President Barrow should live by his words and stop making pronouncements that he has no interest to live up to.

“So, the government should stop this kind of irresponsible actions against its people,” he added.