Statement of The Gambia Bar Association
The Gambia Bar Association is gravely concerned about the decision of the Executive communicated on Sunday, the 26th of January, 2020 in response to the civil unrest that ensued from the “3yrs Jotna Protest” that was scheduled on the same date.
The Gambia Bar Association together with its Civil Society Partners has been closely following the events at Sting Corner and its environs. It is regrettable that the proposed march did not end peacefully and resulted in violence. As a Bar Association, we reiterate and uphold the constitutional right of citizens to peacefully assemble as guaranteed by section 25(d) of 1997 Constitution. In the same vein, we urge citizens to exercise their fundamental rights peacefully and within the ambit of the applicable laws.
We are gravely concerned by the Government’s pronouncement purportedly proscribing the 3yrs Jotna Movement and seeking to penalize any third party including the media from having any dealings or business with the movement. The Government of the Gambia is hereby reminded that all Gambians are entitled to enjoy the fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience and belief as well as the freedom of association which includes the freedom to form and join associations. These are fundamental rights guaranteed under our constitution. Furthermore, there is no requirement to register as an association or legal entity to enjoy the protection of the supreme law of the land.
Further, the purported suspension of the operations of Home Digital FM and King FM as well as the arrest of their proprietor and manager respectively is a troubling development. It is our view that the arbitrary suspension of the operations of these two broadcasters by law enforcement is not in accordance with the law and a very bad precedent for press freedom. The use of law enforcement to suppress the operation of media operators is a stain on our nascent democracy and an affront to a free press. The operation of radio stations is governed and regulated by law. We therefore expect that any suspension of the operations of radio broadcasters would be in accordance with the dictates of the applicable law. As a country that promotes the rule of law as a pillar of its development strategy, we expect that this type of conduct is a thing of the past. The Bar Association supports an independent, non-partisan and professional press fittingly called the fourth estate in our governance and accountability landscape as we seek to consolidate our democracy gains.
Whilst the Bar recognises the role of the Gambia Police Force in the maintenance of law and order, we strongly reiterate the need for restraint, as well as the legitimate and proportionate use of force to manage protests. We have credible reports of civilians including women being subjected to disproportionate use of force by the police. The heavy handed use of force by the police is a serious cause for concern. This is unacceptable, regressive and conduct unbecoming of a professional security force; which will only further undermine the citizen’s trust and confidence in the police. We expect our law enforcement officers in keeping the peace and maintaining order to do so within the limits of law. Our law enforcement officers must rise up to the challenge of discharging their duty
whilst respecting the fundamental rights of the citizenry. It is reported that over 137 people have been arrested and in detention without access to their family members and/or accorded the right to legal advice as provided by the constitution. We call on the police to accord all detainees their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
As a fledgling democracy in transition, the intersection of the right to assembly and the public order is the biggest threat to our country`s peace. As a country, we must strike the right balance if we are to build a meaningful democracy founded on the respect for rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.
Going forward, we are calling on the Government of Gambia to review the Public Order Act and the management of protests by the police.
We call on the Government to do step up its efforts to create a more conducive environment that guarantees the people`s fundamental rights to freedom of assembly whilst addressing the attendant security challenges.
We call on the Government to continue to dialogue with all stakeholders in the quest to promote peace, unity and to consolidate our democracy gains.
We are calling on the Gambia Police Force to desist from interfering with operation of Home Digital and King FM and allow the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Ministry of Information Infrastructure Communication Infrastructure as the competent authorities to address any allegations of the violation of broadcaster’s license conditions in accordance with the Information Communication Act 2009.
We also take this opportunity to remind the law enforcement officers to be always guided by the dictates of the law and respect for the fundamental rights of the citizenry in the execution and discharge of their onerous duty as guarantors of our security.
We conclude by reiterating to the Government of the Gambia, the importance of listening and accommodating dissenting and divergent voices in a democracy.
Gambia Bar Association
Dated 27th of January 2020