By Tabora Bojang
The National Human Rights Commission has said it is concerned that prisoners have long been disenfranchised in this country, despite the constitution granting them voting rights while serving sentences.
It has never occurred in the electoral history of the Gambia that the Independent Electoral Commission conducts elections for inmates.
“The constitution has not even excluded them. So in other words, by excluding them we are violating their [prisoners] fundamental rights,” chairperson of the NHRC Emmanuel Joof told deputies.
The commission was invited by the National Assembly select committee on human rights and constitutional matters jointly tasked to meet stakeholders about the Elections Bill.
The disenfranchisement of inmates was raised when nominated member Ya-Kumba Jaiteh who also chairs the committee observed that there are no provisions in the constitution which state prisoners are unable to vote.
Joof, a veteran lawyer and a human rights expert, lamented: “What is even worrying us is that we have a category of prisoners who are not sentenced and we know what happens, you can be in remand for a long period.”
Chairman Joof cited Ghana’s recent presidential election in which voting rights were restored for felons. “Ballot boxes were brought to the prisons and they all voted.”
Commissioner Njundu Drammeh stated that the right to vote is a bedrock element of citizenship in a functioning democracy.
“The right to vote is inalienable. We believe that every category of prisoners should have that right to vote because to vote is about your nation, it is about you voting on how even the prison is administered,” Commissioner Drammeh, a former CPA national coordinator, said.
He said disenfranchising prisoners would tantamount to excluding them from having a say in the running of the country.
Speaker Mariam Jack-Denton who is also a lawyer, added that the Assembly would engage the IEC on the franchise of felons.
She said “prisoners have the right to be registered and vote in the elections.”