By Omar Bah
The National Human Rights Commission’s chairman, Emmanuel Joof has said the rights body intends to meet President Adama Barrow over his reported threats to stop all political activities if he wins reelection in December.
Addressing visiting Serer communities at State House on Sunday, the Gambian leader vowed to put an end to all political meetings requiring police permits if he wins the December presidential election.
“Since I took over in 2017 you have people who are still doing politics. The politics cannot end. Every day they are beating drums, they are blocking roads. Every day they are on social media, every day they are insulting people. That will end on December 4 after the victory. We will give instruction to the Inspector General of Police and anyone who applies for a permit will not get it. We want to continue working. The meeting you’re having, blocking roads does not benefit the country in any way,” President Barrow said.
The Gambian leader also told the visiting Serer community that December will represent a make or break for The Gambia.
However, when contacted for comments as the leaders of human rights defenders in the country, the NHRC boss said: “For this one, the NHRC has decided to engage the president directly. We will desist from making a public statement until after we engage the president.”
Meanwhile, also commenting on the matter, the president of the Gambia Bar Association Salieu Taal, said on Facebook: “I could not believe my ears and eyes when I heard him [Barrow] say that he will effectively ban political rallies/gatherings after the December election and more disturbingly, he will instruct the IGP not to issue any permits for meetings.”
This, Taal added, “is a dangerous path and an affront to our fledgling democracy”.
“His reasoning was that politics has to be suspended after Dec 4th so that he continues his development agenda. Has the president forgotten that he came to power thanks to politics?
Does the president understand that he does not have the power to suspend politics in any shape or form and neither can he ‘instruct’ the IGP to grant or deny a permit to any applicant who wishes to assemble peacefully for politics or any other reasons?” Taal said.
He said the authority and discretion to grant permits for public gatherings “is vested in the IGP under the Public Order Act subject to the Constitution”.
“The right of the citizens to exercise their fundamental rights to associate and assemble cannot be displaced by considerations such as fleeting inconveniences to the public or presidential directives. Neither the president nor the police have the power to restrict the fundamental rights of the citizenry granted by the constitution as envisaged in the president’s speech,” he stressed.
Taal added: “We now live in a democracy and expect our leaders to not only practice democracy but to speak the language of democracy. We expect our leaders to imbibe a democratic culture and be the champions of democracy.
Vibrant multiparty politics is an integral part of a democracy, in essence and substance. It is through politics that we peacefully changed our destiny after twenty-two years of a dictatorship.
Politics is not only about elections and a build up to it every five years. Politics ensures good governance and accountability.”
Taal reminded the president “when we voted for change, we voted for a humble unknown man against an arrogant, pompous tyrant”.
“President Barrow, GambiaHasDecided against tyranny. Never again will any president be allowed to usurp the sovereignty of the Gambians. While it’s political season, Your Excellency, we expect you to lead by example and with dignity. Only one person will be elected as president in Dec 2021 and it is the people who will decide,” Taal stated.
He urged the president to refrain from making such “un-presidential and undemocratic” statements.
A human rights activist and social commentator, Madi Jobarteh reacted: “I urge all citizens and more so the political parties, CSOs, and the National Assembly to scold Barrow until he chokes to swallow back those despicable, undemocratic, unconstitutional remarks that he uttered in a meeting with a group of people from Jeshwang at State House!
“Let the IGP Abdoulie Sanyang be on notice that as IGP he is under no obligation to serve the personal political objectives of any president. If he does so, he will be violating his obligations to uphold the Constitution. In that case, none but him alone shall pay the price.”
Lamin Keita, the UDP’s Wisconsin Chapter chairperson, simply said: “It is dangerous and it undermines our democracy”.