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GOV’T URGED TO DROP CHARGES AGAINST ACTIVISTS

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By Omar Bah

The World Movement for Democracy, a global human rights and democratic space defender, has urged the Gambia government to respect people’s right to freedom of assembly and to drop all charges against activist Marr Nyang and the rest of the civil society leaders arrested on April 21.

Last month, Marr Nyang and seven other civil society advocates were arrested and detained for seven hours at police headquarters in Banjul before being released on bail. They had wanted to protest against the deplorable ferry services across the River Gambia and part of the sea linking the north of the country and the Banjul.

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Prior to the arrest, Nyang’s civic society group Gambia Participates, and the National Youth Parliament jointly submitted a written request to the Gambia Police Force to hold a peaceful procession from the Independence Drive, Banjul towards the Gambia Ports Authority where the Gambia Ferry Services office is housed. However, the police reportedly refused their application for a permit to protest against the perennial ferry crisis.

In the absence of a permit, Marr Nyang and other civil society actors decided to hold a peaceful sit-down strike at the Arch Pavilion in Banjul, a place open to the public without requiring a police permit. Upon arrival and sitting peacefully under the Arch Pavilion, the sit-down protesters were ordered by the police to leave the premises immediately.

“The detention and charge of human rights defenders and activists for merely participating at a sit-down peaceful protest is a cause for concern for Gambia, a country which has transitioned from a dictatorship to an emerging democracy which currently enjoys respect for its peaceful transition,” the group stated in a statement shared with The Standard.

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The poor and inept management of the ferry services has been causing a lot of suffering to many ordinary Gambians and non-Gambians who rely on the ferry services on a daily

basis as their primary means of transport to get to work, school or access health services in Banjul and beyond where most social amenities are located.

The group added that asking people to report on a daily basis to the Police Headquarters is a common tactic that the Gambia police have used in the past to frustrate human

rights defenders.

“The essence of bail is to ensure the person bailed reports to the police or court as and when he or she is required to do so. In this instance, it is clear that Marr and his colleagues are unlikely to abscond and therefore, asking them to report daily is not only unreasonable, but also disproportionate. Marr and his colleagues have at all times, and in good faith sought to exercise their constitutional rights to assemble lawfully and peacefully as citizens, within the confines of the law,” it added.

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