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Friday, July 19, 2024

Free Momodou Sabally. Free Sheriffo Sonko. Defend democracy!

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By Madi Jobarteh

It is pertinent that all citizens, political parties and CSOs pay close attention to the growing weaponisation of laws and institutions in this country thus posing clear and present danger to democracy and human rights.

The detention of Momodou Sabally and Sheriffo Sonko of UDP in the wake of the 12 September armed attack on paramilitary officers must not be taken lightly but confronted to put an end to such malpractices immediately. I am no fan of Momodou Sabally at all, and certainly have no personal connection with Sonko, but it is ridiculous for anyone to assume that these two gentlemen would have anything to do with these attacks as the police are suggesting. How could a so-called Casamance rebel be influenced by a comment from Sabally or Sonko and felt so compelled to kill Gambian security officers?

If what Sabally and Sonko wrote could be found to be inciting today to warrant an arrest, then why were they not arrested the very first day when they wrote those comments? But failing to arrest them at that time only to wait until this incident happened on 12 September and then attempt to link the actions of an alleged Casamance rebel to comments of these two gentlemen is indeed a long stretch. It can only mean the police have been fishing out Sabally and Sonko and this tragic incident provided them the opportunity to hook these two opposition politicians. 

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As citizens, political parties and CSOs, we must not be silent and ignore these occurrences which are unhealthy and threatening to peace and democracy. We may not like or disagree with the individuals and political parties involved, but we must all stand up to defend democracy and human rights no matter who is involved. If we allow the police to twist the comments of Sabally and Sonko just to incriminate and jail them, rest assured yours and my comments will be the next target when we challenge, oppose, or criticise the president and his government.

We know that governments in Africa are notorious for using the law to criminalise the opinions and actions of their opponents to create a justification for their arrest, detention, prosecution, and imprisonment. In almost all these cases, those comments or actions are neither criminal nor a threat to peace. Rather what happens is that comments by political opponents are taken out of context and then criminalised only to silence, discredit, alienate or jail them or even use those comments to deregister their parties. Typically, it is always the police, the public prosecutor and the courts that are used to carrying out this disingenuous act in favour of the government, ruling party and the president.

We can all recall how Sabally was first arrested soon after the foiling of the alleged coup plot announced by the government in December 2022.

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Once again, as typical of African governments who do not wish to play by democracy, the police went for an old social media video of the man to try to link Sabally to the coup. After many days and weeks of no success, the police had to withdraw because no stretch of their imagination could indicate with evidence that Sabally would be behind that coup. The trial of the coup is almost at an end now and still no shred of evidence has ever come out to link Sabally to the alleged coupists. Therefore, why did the police arrest him back then if not to intimidate him and the opposition?

Therefore, it is with deep concern to realise that the same Momodou Sabally and now Sheriffo Sonko are detained by the police suggesting that their Facebook posts could be linked to the 12 September attack. All decent and rational human beings must dispel this obnoxious narrative as only a cover-up to intimidate and incriminate Sabally and Sonko hence undermine democracy in The Gambia. The Gambia Government must demonstrate decency and refrain from disingenuous acts just to protect and serve other interests. The Gambia Police Force must refuse to be used to be the attack dog of politicians who lack the courage and ability to face their political opponents on the democracy playground.

Not only Momodou Sabally and Sheriffo Sonko, but I know for a fact that no Gambian politician in NPP, GDC, PDOIS, and UDP among others will promote the shooting to death of Gambian police officers. It is totally dishonest for the police to scan the social media pages of individuals just to try to pick portions of their posts and comments to twist them into illegal and criminal material and then use that to clampdown on them. The most recent case was the illegal arrest of comedian Alhagie Bora for his comments.

We know that this kind of malpractice was well performed under the regime of tin pot dictator Yahya Jammeh when the same Gambia Police Force and the National Intelligence Agency (erroneously and illegally called SIS) were the weapons used to harangue the opposition, and more so the UDP. From Ousainu Darboe to Solo Sandeng, scores of UDP leaders and supporters used to be arrested and charged with all sorts of imaginary crimes just to intimidate and silence them. My own beloved brother, Lasana Jobarteh, was himself ridiculously charged with ‘broadcasting without licence using Skype’ in 2013 for merely relaying a UDP rally on Freedom Radio. What is illegal or criminal for one to relay a political rally of a legally registered political party over the media?

Therefore, let all citizens rise and demand that President Adama Barrow and his government abide by the values and standards of democracy, rule of law and human rights as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution. Their actions are reminiscent of the Yahya Jammeh regime, and they must be told to stop and withdraw. Let Barrow face his political opponents openly and directly as politicians do in a democracy and ask the police to get out of the way. These undemocratic actions of suppressing citizens and the opposition are the reasons why African countries remain volatile leading to unending political violence.

President Barrow and his government must be told that the 1997 Constitution intended to make The Gambia a multiparty democracy in which the freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and demonstration are fully guaranteed. In a democracy, political opponents may use flamboyant, flowery, or even unpleasant language against each other, but so long as these do not directly call for hate or violence, then we must accept them as part of democracy. The comments by Sabally and Sonko are fully within the limits of multiparty democracy and human rights for which they should not have been ‘invited’ to the police in the first place. President Barrow himself is notorious for making incendiary statements all the time and the IGP never invited him for questioning.

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