By Omar Bah
Activist Madi Jobarteh, who was arrested and released last month, was yesterday charged with seditious intention, incitement to violence, and false publication and broadcasting when he reported to the police.
The Westminster Foundation country representative was initially released on a bail bond of D100,000 secured by one Gambian surety and has been reporting to the Police Headquarters since then.
Speaking to The Standard shortly after leaving the police, Madi Jobarteh said: “The police have charged me with three counts: seditious intention, incitement to violence, false broadcasting, and information. My bail has been extended to November 23. They have refused to hand over my phone.”
He said he denied the charges in his cautionary statement.
“I find these charges to be ridiculous because I have not committed any of those offences, so for me, this is just persecution. As a citizen who has the right guaranteed by the constitution to have an opinion and to express an opinion about my government, my president, and any other public institution, the article in question has nothing in it that relates in any way to violence, sedition, false information, or broadcasting,” he said.
He argued that the police are merely executing the orders of the president to silence his critics, and he happens to be one of those critics.
“So basically, this is political work, but this is not police work… The police should not have been involved in this matter at all, and I should have never ever been called by the police, or arrested by the police. It is rather unfortunate for something like this to be happening in our country again. Charges like sedition are undemocratic; they shouldn’t exist in any democratic country,” he said.
Jobarteh said if the president or the government disagrees with any citizen’s opinion about its conduct and performance, it is for them, including the president, to come and give clarification or refute that opinion.
“So, for me, what the police are doing is once again bringing back what was here to generate fear, harass, and intimidate citizens in order to silence them for the purpose of shielding the government from accountability, and that is the definition of dictatorship. I think we should be hugely concerned and worried because what is happening to me today could happen to anybody tomorrow,” he said.
Asked to comment on the police’s frequent invitations or mainly government critics, Madi’s legal representative, Lamin LS Camara, said: “It’s unfortunate, but we still have to understand the fact that the police have a right to call people for unreasonable suspicion of having committed a crime or about to commit a crime, but this latitude does not mean that it has to be abused. The police must try to endeavor to work within the confines of the constitution and the powers conferred on them by the law. So to call people for investigations and then it takes eternity, and also seizing their mobile phones for six months or so is unacceptable and utterly unjustifiable. But like I said, when we get to the courts, we will deal with those issues.”
Also reacting to the charges, the executive director of local NGO, Beakanyang Kafo, Nfamara Jawneh, said it was a sad moment that could undermine the country’s democracy.
“Having fought so hard to bring democracy into this country only to see the police being used again to intimidate citizens is mind-boggling and unacceptable,” he said.
The award-winning human rights activist said police inviting citizens for questioning for merely expressing their opinions is very unfortunate.
“It is a clear indication that the security sector reform has not gone anywhere—no significant changes. The same people who were used by the former regime to intimidate us are still serving and prepared to do whatever they are asked to do. We should be very worried because in countries where we have dictatorship, even in The Gambia, this is how Yahya Jammeh started,” he added.
Jawneh urged the police to drop the “bogus charges” against Madi unconditionally.
“We will never be scared to express our opinions on the way our country is being governed, and we can’t be intimidated by the police,” he concluded.